Wednesday, August 16, 2017

An exercise in love.

From On Being with Krista Tippett:

This tool that I inherited, that's in my toolbox, is right there:
I carve this little space each day for being,
in the me so I can be there more for the we,
and I am now really conscious of how core it is in an exercise in love,
so that I can be more agile and helpful, 
when more contentious moments happen,
the moment I turn on my phone or open my front door.

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Questions to my self.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
 that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Such a simple statement, it seems as though we couldn't go astray with those words as our compass. And yet we have. We do. We have since that statement was committed to paper.

When we contemplate these rights, we might start to think about deeper questions like who are we? what do we stand for? what makes our life meaningful?

So much of the rhetoric that we see and hear is the shouting of the false self. It is the cries of the self-righteous, the small disconnected self that occupies a small world, the self that divides and exploits. The mind is a powerful thing, it has the potential to create change. Ignorance has an effect, and it is not pretty.

It is important to examine the self. The Buddha taught the examination of self as the foundation for understanding not only ourselves, but also the world around us.

The Buddha taught that the self was an aggregate. It was a heap of consciousness, a body, perceptions, feelings and mental formations. Each of those aggregates was furthermore composed of smaller aggregates. There is no autonomous self, it is connected, a network of parts and pieces that makes what we perceive as a whole.

The self arises from causes and conditions. It is not a single entity, self-manifest and self-created. We are created from our parents, communities, social and spiritual backgrounds. There is no independent self, we are connected, a network of causes and conditions that enable us to occupy a moment in space and time.

The false self feels isolated, lonely, rejected and powerless. The true self is connected, dependent, bigger than you, malleable, changing, dynamic. The false self builds walls, the true self embraces its diversity.

It is important to examine the self, who are we? Who are the we that hold these truths to be self-evident?

Of course the true self is also no self. Everything is connected as it were. When we realize this simple truth, that we are all connected, then there is a potential that we can respect and fulfill those inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Becoming more human.

I'm nothing special, just an ordinary human being.
That's why I always describe myself as a simple Buddhist monk.
His Holiness Dalai Lama

I have heard the Dalai Lama speak on several occasions, and often times he will remind us of this point. It is really a teaching unto itself, a reminder for ourselves in our own practice.

In our own practice, we often find ourselves trying to escape the human condition. We try to get away from all of the pain and suffering, to relieve ourselves of the burden of our anxiety and stress. We can work with our condition in healthy ways, or in way that continue to feed our own neurosis and confusion, that is the challenge of the practice.

I think part of the reason that the Dalai Lama reminds us that he is an ordinary human being is because a lot of people project onto him the notion that he is a Buddha or some kind of god, above it all. They imagine that he is somehow removed from the human condition, that he is different from us.

There is a tendency, that I have often witnessed in so called advanced practitioners, to be above it all. Our practice can lend itself to being the knower of truth, the provider of every solution and the one with an answer to every question. This is a real danger, the work of ego and arrogance. It is something that we should watch out for in our own practice.

The Dalai Lama reminds us that through our practice we should become more human. The goal isn't to become better than human, or some kind of superhuman, but to truly be human. An ordinary human being. Our practice is about embodying human values, connecting with what it really means to be human and using that as the basis for our practice.

Orienting ourselves with human values, our practice should be simple. Simply be present, practice mindfulness and compassion, be grateful and enjoy this life. Don't make things too complicated. Don't be too complicated on the inside, don't have too many wants and needs. Don't stir the pot.

Be simple. Easy going.

And he is a Buddhist monk. This is his job. He takes it seriously. We should take our practice seriously. As practitioners, this work that we are doing is important. Don't be lazy. Don't give way to your bad habits and doubts. This is important work that needs to be done.

Living this way, as a simple human practitioner, we can make a profound impact on the world. We can be makers of change, forgiveness and healing. We can alleviate pain and right injustice. We can enjoy life, appreciate its beauty and tenderness. We can have a peaceful heart and a happy mind.

Don't believe it is possible?

The Dalai Lama is showing us, it is so.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Who is we?

The great practitioner of virtue dedicates their practice to the benefit of others, but who are the others?

Who is we?

Is it your family, your tribe, your community?
Is it your supporters and sponsors?
Is the circle of we really the circle of you?

We is everyone. All beings, everywhere. Those with you and those against you. Those you agree with and those you don't.

That is the basis of dedication.

You don't need to agree with everyone or align with their position. You don't need to condone wrong views or tolerate injustice.

You should wish all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness, that they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. All beings, everyone.

That is the basis. That is the common ground. That is a starting point for change.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The virtue of presence.

Presence is compassionate. It is open, available and responsive.
Presence witnesses the world as it is, offering acknowledgement, understanding and respect.
Presence is generous. Generous with your time, attention and effort.
Presence is disciplined. It does not waver or get caught up in cycles of confusion.
Presence is patient, overcoming the tendency to shut down and turn away.
Presence is diligent, willing to resolve hardship as we journey on the path.
Presence embodies a natural meditative stability.
Presence gives rise to insight and wisdom.

All virtues are embodied in presence. Practice being present, and you give the world a great gift.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Signs of progress.

Being accomplished in your practice doesn't mean that you have amassed a great following. It isn't your ability to know every answer, to be the provider of every solution. It doesn't matter if your students think you can walk on water or you have amazing abilities.

Your practice has borne fruit if you are less concerned about what others think of you.
Your practice has hit its mark if you don't fear being insignificant.
Not chasing after praise or worried about being blamed are signs of success.
You've made great progress when you are no longer scheming for gain or using any measure at all to protect against loss.
If you no longer feel overwhelmed by suffering, your practice is ripening.
If you no longer find yourself wishing for happiness, it is a strong sign of accomplishment.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

I hope.

I hope to be there when my daughter grows old.

I hope to see her fall in love, to be there when her heart is broken and then made whole again.

I hope to see her succeed, to build things, to make her impact on the world.

I hope to be there when things are falling apart, when times are tough and chances seem slim.

I hope to see her being a goof ball. To see her laugh and try new things.

I hope to see her figuring things out, diving into problems and charting a new course.

I hope to see her sitting by the water, nothing more to do.

I hope to see her listen deeply, to witness her acts of kindness and her generosity with others.

We never know the hour or circumstances of our death. This life is like a child's shoelace, quick to come undone.

I hope I am blessed with the privilege of growing old, to be able to be present in the lives of my loved ones.

We can never be sure of what the future holds for us. We can only practice being present now and enjoying this brief moment that we have together. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Stillness within movement.

Settle the mind. Let it rest naturally. Let it rest in its own place.

Let go of any thoughts or stories playing out in your head. Let go of your plans and projects. Simply rest in open presence.

Calm, peaceful, expansive presence.


Within that stillness,
thoughts will drift like tumbling leaves,
sensations will burst forth and disappear like water bubbles,
voices and sounds reverberate like an echo in a canyon.

Movement within stillness.

Nothing to do, simply rest.

Movement is free in its own place, naturally freed without having to do anything.

Resting deeply, we become like a vast ocean of equanimity; the variety of sights, sounds and thoughts rise and fall, yet we remain unmoved in the expanse of naturally settled meditation. 

Resting deeply in stillness we can accommodate movement without being disturbed. Gaining proficiency with movement within stillness, we can begin to recognize stillness within movement.

Extending an arm, lifting a glass, walking, conversing, working. All thoughts, expressions and movement manifest as a grand play of awareness.

There is no need to fight or struggle, movement doesn't destroy stillness, it enhances awareness.

Don't bind your mind to stillness. Don't block movement. The inseparability of stillness and movement is the wisdom mind of pristine awareness, the natural Great Perfection.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Different emanations.

Most people probably haven't heard of the tulku system in Tibet. A tulku is a recognized reincarnate lama or teacher, the Dalai Lama being the most famous and prominent of this generation. Often times at a very young age, children are recognized as being an emanation of a previous teacher. There are various ways that this recognition occurs, some legitimate, others not. Overall, the tulku tradition is broken and much can be said about just how broken it is

But that is not really my concern, nor is it beneficial for our practice.

What is beneficial to our practice and our life is one particularly unique aspect of the tulku tradition. A single teacher can have five different emanations in their next life. They may take a single rebirth, but they could emanate in up to five ways. Those five emanations are called: body, speech, mind, activity and qualities.

Not many tulkus have done five. Actually, I can only think of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo as an example of all five. 

How is this important for us? Why is it meaningful?

How many different emanations do you embody in this life?

Surely you take certain forms in order to carry out certain activities, but also take on different roles to meet different circumstances. You might take a certain stance at your work, and in your personal life prefer another posture.

The important point is that we are full of contradictions and tension and apparent inconsistencies.  We don't need to embody a singular self, such a self isn't even truly real.  We can take many forms in our life, each carrying out benefit in their own way and on their own time. 

Regardless of the form you are taking, carry it onto the path. Let the path clarify confusion and give rise to wisdom. Dedicate the merit.

Perhaps most importantly, don't get stuck on the notion of you being just one thing. That is not who you are, it is a side of you and maybe a prominent part, but there is much more below the surface.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

If you were to pick one, which would it be?

Imagine a scenario:

You are an enlightened being. You are compassionate and generous. You bear a strong suit of patience. You have cunning wisdom and insight and the strong aspiration to bring benefit to all beings. You effortlessly fulfill the aims of others, simultaneously fulfilling your own aims. 

All other beings are unenlightened. You live in a world in which everyone is suffering. Everyone else doesn't understand the true nature of reality or their own nature. Your job is to tirelessly try to liberate them from their own confusion. You are the only one who has the vision and wisdom necessary to carry out that task.

Imagine another scenario:

You are unenlightened. You know your own suffering. Anger, attachment, frustration and delusion follow you like a shadow. You try to be generous, but end up holding back. You try to be patient, but end up blowing a fuse. You have insight, sure, but there are many days you just don't know what to do. 

Everyone else is enlightened.  Everyone else is trying to wake you up. Everyone is your teacher, a spiritual friend or a guide on the road. Every interaction is an opportunity, every trial is part of the path. Everyone is in on the game. You are the last to wake up. 

Both of these scenarios are unrealistic, but which one do you think would lead to quicker progress on the path?

The student-teacher relationship is not well understood in the west. There is a lot of cultural baggage and misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up. There is a lot of gross misconduct and deceit that takes place. You should properly analyze the teacher and the teachings. Once you do though, you should try to generate pure vision in regards to the teacher.

It may not be possible to see all beings as enlightened, to appreciate them all as guides on the path. That would be a stretch. But if we could see one person as enlightened and really be impacted by their teachings, then maybe we would be more receptive to other forms of teachers and teachings as well.

Start with one. One is the minimum. Be willing to be receptive, to generate reverence and devotion, to respect and to serve one being.  If you can do it with one, more will appear. 

Who knows, maybe you are the last one to wake up. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Say yes.

What do a barista, a stranger on the bus, a teacher, a lawyer and a designer all have in common?

They can all be practicing virtue.

They can be patient, generous, compassionate and kind. They can act fairly, justly, without bias or discrimination. They can share insight and experience, share tidbits of wisdom and joy.

When we interact with those whose path is one of all-embracing virtue, we encounter a certain honesty and truthfulness. It feels right, genuine.

They often have a freedom and joy about them. They exhibit a natural grace and ease, a sense of lightheartedness.

As they move through the world, every encounter is one of mutual sharing and exchange. There is a directness free from the baggage of strong emotions, projections or bias. They interact with others in a way that the chains of confusion are broken and the cycle of anger is interrupted, even if only for a moment.

So how do we carry that virtue into our lives?

Say yes to whatever is coming up.

You could be faced with a problem that you would rather not deal with. Opportunities could present themselves, do you take them or not? A stranger might ask you something, or maybe a friend. You will have to interact with someone you really don't like that much.

Don't push it away. Don't get overly excited and enraptured by it. Say yes, acknowledge it, and see where it leads.

Be willing to interact with things as they are.

Some things play themselves out, unravel and wither away. Some evolve and open up into something else altogether.

The play of interdependence is beyond the mind. We can't say for certain what will happen. Our own decisions, connections and propensities create a world that is uniquely our own. It can be challenging to carry that experience into the world around us to effect change, make a difference or to benefit others.

Simply engaging in the formless practice of all-embracing virtue,
we can meet with the world and our experience as it is,
and bring about benefit in ways that we could have never imagined.

That is how all-embracing virtue creates inconceivable benefit. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Born free.

When you enter a new situation, a new job, a new city, a new life, what are your primary concerns?

We are concerned about our parents and teachers, the neighborhood and school district, the crime and homelessness. We care about the class we are in or the team we are on. Reputation, notoriety and association are all a big deal.

These are deep seated concerns. We care about where we are born. We have an innate predisposition to seek out positive rebirths, positive circumstances.

The purification of rebirth isn't to be reborn in the wealthiest neighborhood with the best schools and the best odds of getting into the best colleges with the best sports teams. No. The purification of birth is to able to enter any situation, any circumstance, any life and to be unstained by its faults.

When we are able to take any form and not be bound, then we are truly free. Taking the conditions that you find yourself in, using them as the basis of the path, and transforming them through wisdom to bring benefit to others, that is freedom.

The rest is just bondage in gold chains. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Go for depth.

How many new students want to go deep?

It is gratifying to get new faces in the door. To have new energy in the room. To see light bulbs turn on, connections built, impact made. But how many of those people keep digging for more?

Some come, get what they are looking for and go on their way.

Some come, build a strong connection and stick around for a long time. Years later they still ask the same questions, still have the same hangups.

Some come, and they come with a blaze. They eat up all they can, put in a huge amount of effort and energy, make significant contributions and build up a lot of trust and respect. And then they burn out and disappear.

Some come, and they put in the time and energy. They contribute, their questions evolve and become more nuanced, they keep digging. They keep showing up, year after year. Year after year, they become more integrated, take on more responsibility, are more generous and more patient. Their understanding deepens, and with depth comes breadth and subtlety. Connections are made, insight drawn out. They share, lift people up and make an impact on those around them.

Not every student can plumb the depths. Some don't have the capacity, some don't have the time, some just aren't in it for those reasons.

If you're lucky, you will find a few who go deep. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Feeding concepts.

When was the last time someone told you something that influenced and shaped your experience?

Do you find yourself being aware of this as it plays itself out?

Probably not.

We often think of ourselves as rationale coherent beings, experiencing the world through our lens of truth. We trust in our thoughts and emotions, believe that our perception is unerring, and value our discernment and judgement.

What we don't know is that much of what shapes our experience and perception is concepts that were planted long, long ago. Most of which we didn't even know were being planted.

Take my two year old as an example. My wife said she didn't like chicken pot pie. My daughter parroted her taste preferences, yet she has never had chicken pot pie. We have yet to find out how long this biased perception lasts.

Chicken pot pie isn't much of a big deal. It doesn't really matter if you like mustard or not, or if you prefer skim over whole milk.

But what about your concepts about race, sexual orientation and religion? What about your views about money, politics and human rights?

Most of what we call our ideas, opinions and preferences have been fed to us. Most often, we don't dissect and analyze those preferences too much, we think we came to them through our own merits.

Part of waking up means no longer trusting your own biased perception. You need to recognize that your perception is biased, that is a starting point. Your view isn't to be held onto. Your position isn't to be fortified. All of that is confusion.  We are confused.

Once you know that we are confused, then you can start the process of right view, right intention, right discernment. First, you need to be honest with yourself. Then you can start to be honest with others, and things get better.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Upcoming Meditation Workshop!

A Healing Yoga of Breath and Movement

Tsa Lung is a Tibetan healing yoga that works with the subtle body 
of the channels and winds using breathing techniques and physical movements. 
Learn the fundamentals of the practice, how the channels and winds 
affect the mind, and experience how the practice calms the mind 
and induces a natural meditative equipoise.
No prior meditation experience necessary, advanced students welcome.

Sunday, July 9
10 am - 12 noon

By donation (recommended $10)
1716 NW Market St 
Seattle, WA 98107


For more information contact Greg at

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Seeds, imprints and predispositions.

We all know how difficult it is to start habits. We would like to work out more, meditate, spend more time with our family or friends, learn to paint.  We want to eat healthier, be more productive, be more generous.

Starting is hard. Continuing is harder.

Even harder is eliminating the imprints of bad habits.

The Buddha taught that we need to purify our karma, afflictive emotions, cognitive obscurations and habitual tendencies if we are to be completely awake.  Karma is our actions, we need to practice virtue and try not to harm others.  Afflictive emotions are things like attachment, aversion, ignorance, jealousy and arrogance. Cognitive obscurations are the way we perceive self and other, our understanding of reality. Habitual tendencies refer to the impressions, seeds, or predispositions of our past thoughts, actions and experience. Habitual tendencies are mostly unconscious. Most people rarely even think about them much less try to change them. 

Think about your perception of food. Why do you perceive some foods as wholesome and good, whereas others you perceive as disgusting? My dog has no problem eating an old hot dog off the street. The concept of 'this might make me sick' is not one that my dog has (or my child!).

Think about your perception of your body. In Nepal it is common to see men holding hands, it is a sign of friendship and affection. In the U.S. people might think you were invading their personal space or question their sexual orientation. One might incorrectly wonder, why are all these monks gay!

Why do you perceive yourself as strong, or weak, beautiful or ugly? Why do you seek out affirmation, or hide in the shadows? What is it that makes you outgoing, or shy?

These are not easy questions to answer, and often there is no answer. But the question is important.

Once you start to ask the question, you can start the hard work of relinquishing your grasping and fixation to concepts about the way things are or should be. Letting go of concepts is how we break free from the tight hold that habitual tendencies have over our minds and hearts. Then, as those seeds ripen, we can recognize them and let them go.

There is a chance that in our experience, we might catch ourselves asking 'why?', or simply notice how strange our reaction is. Recognize it and let it go.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Knowing is not enough.

A treasure buried under the earth.
Honey encassed in a beehive.
A healing medicine.

If you don't know these exist, they are of no benefit to you. If you know they exist, but sit back and do nothing, they are also of no value to you.

You must dig out the treasure. You must carefully extract the honey. You must take the medicine.

Knowing is not enough. It's a start, but you need to act and you need to put in the effort. 

Effort is what makes the treasure useful. Effort is what allows you to enjoy the honey. Effort is what eliminates your pain and sorrow. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


The Dharma was taught to make our minds more flexible, to liberate ourselves from selfishness and bad habits, and to allow us to be of service to others.

Our practice of the Dharma must be free from concerns of gain, praise, status or position. Correctly practicing the Dharma means that you do what you say, that you strive to live according to the teachings. Your actions, practice and lifestyle are emphasized, not your words, ideas or opinions.

When we start searching out positions, contriving situations for recognition, or using the Dharma to serve ourselves, our practice has missed its mark and becomes a source of bondage.

If we wrap the Dharma around our self, our mistaken practice becomes the source of idolatry. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Do you want to be right, or true?

Right has a position. It has coordinates, you're either with me or your not. Being right, you have something to defend. 

True knows where it stands, but it understands others positions. It acknowledges and respects. Being true, you have something to share. 

Right is often painful. It is argumentative and fraught with conflict. 

True has tenderness and a built in humility. 

Right is full of confidence, which quickly falls to arrogance.

True is full of confidence, while remaining open to diversity, tension, and maybe even being wrong.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What are you looking for?

We are all constantly moving, shifting position, adrift in a sea of change. We find ourselves chasing, over reaching, holding back, leaning a bit too far.

Amidst that dynamic play, what are you looking for?

Are you looking for the right position? Are you only looking at what others are doing? Do you find yourself taking a particular stance, drawing lines in the sand of with me or against me? What if no one validates your position, are you okay with that?

Your view is important. Not your views, not your opinions or ideas.  Your view, what you are looking for, your outlook. 

Your view allows you to navigate change, or to constantly be fighting it. Your view allows you to reconnect with your center, or to be strung out and off balance. Your view can create harmony and balance, or it can create division and discord. 

Your practice should continually try to refine and clarify your view. Really dig in, what are you looking for?  Have you found it? 

When you think you have found it, be brave enough to ask the next question- does this view assist me in navigating change and adversity, or do I find myself caught up in the storm?

Monday, May 1, 2017

What happened to happiness?

Happiness is everywhere today, in the media and marketplace that is. A cursory glance and it seems that the Buddha's teachings are all about cultivating happiness and being happy. Be happy. A guide to happiness. Project after project chasing after this elusive groundbreaking development, happiness.

Of course the Buddha did teach about happiness, but it was not the aim. The goal wasn't to chase happiness, try to develop it, cultivate it. Happiness wasn't the goal, it was an effect.

As he says in the Dhammapada:

All things have the nature of mind.
Mind is the chief and takes the lead.
If the mind is clear, whatever you do or say
will bring happiness that will follow you like your shadow.

And also:

Rejoicing in this life becomes rejoicing in the next,
the one who does good rejoices in both.
When you see how pure your actions have been,
you will be happy, you will rejoice.

The Buddha emphasized that we need to engender a clear and virtuous mind, and when we do, happiness will be the result.  The Buddha actually clearly taught what this mind looks like, describing eleven mental states that give rise to a virtuous mind.

1. Faith
2. Dignity, or integrity
3. Decency
4. Non-attachment
5. Non-aggression
6. Non-confusion
7. Diligence
8. Pliancy
9. Conscientiousness, or carefulness
10. Equanimity
11. Non-violence

Where is happiness on that list?

Instead the Buddha taught us how to generate a mind that leads to happiness. We can recognize and train in these mental states. We can pursue and have faith in that which is authentic and true. We can have integrity in what we do, a sense of decency towards others. We can practice without attachment, aggression or confusion. We can overcome our laziness and hesitation but showing up and putting in the effort time and again.  We can look within and see our intentions and how careful we need to be with our actions.  We can practice equanimity, seeing self and other as equal. And we can refuse to let our innocence be a container for violence, committing to do no harm.  

Practicing in this way, happiness will follow like a shadow. Happiness is fleeting, it comes and goes. If we cultivate a virtuous mind, we will give rise to the cause of happiness. With a virtuous mind, even if we are not always happy, we will not suffer dissatisfaction or discontentment. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A different kind of doubt.

There is plenty of doubt in our lives. We doubt the media, strangers, untested products. We are skeptical of people selling us things on the street, overly generous offers, promises too good to be true.

Doubt and healthy skepticism project us from trouble.

We also have a lot of self doubt. We doubt our ability, our knowledge and experience. We are skeptical that we will be able to perform at the highest level, that others will appreciate what we have to contribute, or that our work will make an impact.

Doubt at this level starts to take on an emotional dimension. We start feeling anxious or fearful. We feel our heart race, maybe become depressed or upset. Doubt becomes a snowball that continues to grow and feed upon itself as it races downhill.

We create all of these experiences.

Our perception and concepts of the world and our environment engender doubt as a protective mechanism. Our perception of our ability, or our perceived notions of what others think or expect, all of those are based largely on concepts and stories we tell ourselves. Even our feelings of anxiousness and fear are created from these stories and perceptions.

What we haven't doubted, even for an instant, is the concept or the perception itself. That little devil gets off time and time again, and yet it is the one that torments us the most. 

Take a moment to look deeply into your own concepts and perceptions. Take a look from another angle, try something new. Break free from the cage of reifying conceptions. 

This kind of doubt will be truly beneficial and protect you from a bunch of self-made trouble. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Nothing left to do.

What if you had nothing else on your to-do list? What if your projects were finished, loose ends all tied off? 

Would you be satisfied? Content?

Working, being busy, accomplishing things, all of those make us feel pretty good. We may complain about having so much to do, may wish we had less to do, but activity makes us feel like we are doing something. We are making progress.

But what if you were done?

Would you make up something else to do? Buy a book, dream up a new project? Would you entertain yourself, try out some new recipes?

Our mind quickly moves away from nothing left to do, right? So much fills the gap in time and space. Just as things are starting to settle, starting to be resolved, just as we are getting to done, something else comes up.  It is like a quantum vacuum state, it is never truly empty, something is always coming up.

The same can be said for the nature of mind. As we sink into the nature of our own mind, we realize its profound peace and clarity, but it is never truly empty. The clarity aspect always gives rise to appearances, whether they are sights, sounds, thoughts, sensations. We never reach completely empty space.

So can we ever have nothing left to do?

The answer is how we relate to appearances, to what is coming up in our experience. If we fixate and grasp after appearances, then no, we will forever spin the wheel of conditioned existence. If we can see through appearances, recognize their true nature, then we can experience freedom upon arising. Things are free in their own place, nothing left to do. You can start to enjoy doing and not doing.  When doing, things are free in their own place.  When not doing, they are also free as they arise.

Nothing left to do becomes the path of doing and not doing.  Doing or not doing, you find you don't need to struggle.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Islands unto themselves.

At the time of the Buddha, his disciples wandered alone most of the year. They carried out their practice, upheld their discipline and were largely islands unto themselves.

During the monsoon season, they would convene for a few months. They would receive teachings, ask questions, discuss with fellow Sangha their own practice and understanding. When the rains stopped they would depart, going their own way. 

There is a strong parallel with this type of lifestyle and our own modern society. Most of us are pretty busy with work, family and projects. Within the context of our own life, we strive to maintain our practice, uphold our discipline and act as islands unto ourselves. The challenge is often how we orient ourselves to our circumstances and carry the teachings into our life. 

The monastic discipline is designed around simplicity and cutting through confusion. Most of our daily life is conditioned around complexity and feeding our ego. We need to spend some time reflecting on our own discipline and figure out how we continue to fall into certain neurotic loops and defeating cycles. Their isn't a manual, but there are teachings.

Carrying out your practice with diligence, you then convene yearly with fellow practitioners. You receive teachings and instruction, ask questions, discuss your practice and where you are getting stuck. 

This is the way the tradition began, and the way in which it can continue to flourish. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Exaggeration and denial.

Accumulating merit and wisdom free from the 
extremes of exaggeration or denial is the supreme path.
Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

Taking our own life and circumstances as the path is not easy. We face a lot of uncertainty and doubt. There are lots of maps but none of them fit your coordinates.  We have problems and obstacles, friends and enemies. Some of these problems are big, some are small. Sometimes we have genuine insight, other times just fanciful ideas.   

It is easy to fall into exaggeration or denial on the path. Exaggeration and denial prevent progress on the path, they keep us stuck and we don't learn the lesson that we need to learn.  

Exaggeration is self-importance, fixation on how special our experience is, how special we are. Even small acts of kindness become elevated to acts of praise.  

Denial is a refusal to acknowledge your reality. You pretend like it didn't happen, don't participate, refuse to face. Denial binds us. It prevents us from gaining authentic experience. We never gain the wisdom of direct experience if we don't acknowledge how we really feel or act. Instead we promulgate concepts and stories about what could have been or should have been.  

The supreme path free from exaggeration or denial is simple, humble, and straight forward. It is not deceptive, to ourselves or others. It is genuine and authentic, pragmatic and meaningful.

Recognizing the downfalls of exaggeration and denial, the path can really clarify our own confusion and neurosis. We directly encounter our own confusion, and have the opportunity to let it go. 

Liberation becomes possible when we are honest with ourselves.      



Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Tibetan: cho
English: dharma

Dharma is a very common term within the Buddhist tradition.  We often see Dharma, capitalized, to refer to the teachings of the Buddha.  But dharma has a depth of meaning that needs to be appreciated as we learn to carry Dharma onto the path.

Dharma can refer to:
1. The teachings of the Buddha. In this sense Dharma refers to that which is authentic and true.
2. Any phenomena, or anything that is knowable. The reality of things or events.  
3. The reality of one's own life or circumstances as they manifest.

There are many more interpretations of dharma, but these three are critical to understand.  When Gampopa incites us to turn our mind towards the Dharma, he is encouraging us to look deeply into our life and connect with that which is authentic and true, which are the teachings of the Buddha.  

Gampopa next exhorts us to turn dharma into the path. When we first encounter Dharma, we can become very enthusiastic about pursuing the reality of things. We can be fascinated with philosophical arguments and use logic and reasoning to gain a fuller understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  We can really start to know that which is authentic and true, start to have some knowledge and understanding. 

But this type of practice is very academic and conceptual.  It is all up in your head. When we are too focused on the reality of things, we forget to look deeply into our own situation, our own struggles and actions.

Gampopa wants us to turn the reality of our situation, our life, into the path. However our life is unfolding, use that to embody the teachings. 

The Dharma is not something we simply read or study. It is not complex philosophy. It is the reality of our circumstances, right now. How do we use this dharma? How do we work with this life? How do we carry all of the baggage and problems that we have onto a path that is unerring and true? 

That is the challenge that we face.  That is the dharma that we earnestly seek out for the rest of our life. Carrying this dharma onto the path, the path can clarify confusion and confusion can dawn as the direct experience of the wisdom of our true nature. And that wisdom will be beyond words.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Unpaid debt.

In the past, others have benefited us greatly and we have only brought them harm. In our search for control, status and well being, we have indiscriminately left others behind, turned our backs on them or exploited them for our gain.

We owe them a great deal, yet the debt has not been paid.

We owe karmic debts to the living and deceased.  To those whom we have accidently harmed, broken their trust, stolen from, beaten or killed.  That debt weighs us on, we can feel its burden and often feel trapped by its presence.  That debt continues to define our present experience, influencing the choices we make, the habit patterns we play out and the neurotic behavior that we pretend isn't there.

We will continue to feel our karmic debts pulling on us in unhealthy ways as long as they are not settled. The process of resolving our debts starts with forgiveness, generosity and learning to rest in openness.

Forgiveness is an act of acknowledgement and a claiming of responsibility.
Generosity is a willingness to be present and to benefit others, to repay their kindness.
Openness is the practice of acknowledging and letting go of whatever it is that we are holding onto, in all of the nooks and crannies of our mind.

Our debts will never be completely resolved, but we can do our best to repay them. That opportunity is always available to us. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Experience versus realization.

Experience is temporary, fleeting, easily lost.
Realization is unchanging, seen, known, directly recognized.

Nyam is the Tibetan for experience. We have all kinds of experiences.
Bliss, clarity, non-conceptuality.
Visions, sounds, feelings.
Physical sensations, thoughts, emotions.
Sometimes we feel energetic and focused, sometimes tired and sleepy.
We get confused, then a moment of being awake.

We have all kinds of nyam, the point is to realize that they are illusory and to not become attached to them. We create all kinds of problems for ourselves once we try to recreate nyam, or always try to get back to a particular mental state, a particular feeling tone or perspective.

Tokpa is the Tibetan for realization. It is seeing directly free from concepts. You know and understand without an intermediary.  It is direct recognition.

Tokpa is recognizing your friend in a crowd. There is no question of whether it is, or is not. 
It is knowing fire is hot, water is wet. Realization is embodied and informed by the senses, we see things as they truly are. We see our own face, directly. 

The danger with tokpa is confusing conceptual understanding with actual realization.  Conceptual understanding can seem very certain and logically refined, but it is all thoughts and words.  We need to constantly recreate and reinforce our story to confirm our realization.

If you find yourself scrambling, feeling your realization slipping from you and trying to conceptualize your way back to that state, then you are holding onto a nyam that you are calling tokpa. Be careful, ego and grasping can create a very precipitous path. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lit up.

The living practice tradition of the Buddha's teachings survives to this day because of two types of transmission- transmission of scripture and transmission of realization.

Transmission of scripture is the living transmission of the repository of Dharma from generation to generation. It is teaching, discussing and practicing the root and practice texts. The transmission of scripture should be wide spread and joyfully given to those who seek it out. 

The transmission of realization occurs between teacher and student. It is the lighting of a torch. Once lit, it burns just as bright and luminous as its source. The source doesn't lose anything, and the newly lit torch has nothing further to gain. 

This transmission of realization is the essence of the practice lineage (sgrub rgyud). It is the transmission of the awakened mind, the direct recognition of our innate buddha heart. In Dzogchen it is the direct realization of our own nature, rigpa as the natural great perfection. 

This lighting of the torch is not easy. It takes time, dedication, effort. It depends on a genuine connection, commitment and karma.

The source torch burns bright and without discrimination, but few torches can really be lit because they don't come prepared.  They are too loose, unkept, or waver once they get close.  Some, being lit, lack the merit to sustain the blaze and burnout. 

You should seek out the transmission of scripture widely and with great enthusiasm.  But for the transmission of realization, you need to get to work.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What does a thing weigh?

That thing you're carrying, how much does it weigh?

Does it slow you down? Tire you out?

Does it give you blisters? Have a pointy edge?

Do special tools help you bear its load?

Our situation often seems heavy, but what does it really weigh? Why is it that sometimes trying to prepare Tuesday night dinner can be just enough to put us over the edge? Why is it that one email, one comment, one argument, one more to-do, can be too much to bear? 

We bump into these things all the time. Little things, insignificant ninnyhammers, that put us over the edge. 

Weight is relative. It depends on relations and circumstances, attitude and approach.  Next time you're feeling the grind, take a look at how you are carrying the load.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

An open door.

The greatest gift that we can often give others is to simply be present and to listen.  We don't need to fix, provide solutions, or rush in with all of our own energy. Simply witness, understand, and remain open to whatever is coming up.  

When we can truly listen, without judgement or bias, without shutting down or turning away, then we can truly be of benefit. We can hear what they need, and they might feel comfortable enough tell you.

The door is always open.   

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dancing on the beat.

A playful dance,
meeting and parting,
coming and going.
Intense and fluid,
precision and presence.

Resist and you get pushed around.
Force and your foot will get stepped on.
Shut down for an instant, and you can't catch up.

Relax. Enjoy this opportunity to dance.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Buddha heart.

Noble child, all beings, though they find themselves with all sorts of afflictions,
Have a tathagata-garbha that is eternally unsullied, 
and that is replete with virtues no different from my own.
Tathagatagarbha Sutra

All beings are natural Buddhas, concealed in a shell of afflictions.  When that shell is broken, their buddhahood is revealed. 

What is the shell?  It is our negative emotions, our bias and distorted lens. It is our habitual tendencies and conditioned actions. It is our innate self-grasping and fixation on identity, self and other, better and worse, pure and impure.

It's a thick shell.

The shell is adventitious, without a single iota of permanence. Yet we continuously reinforce it, wrapping ourselves up layer after layer. We don't choose the shell, because the shell is based on confusion. Confusion perpetuates itself in an endless cycle of becoming.

The escape is to recognize the tathagata-garbha directly.  Tathagata means one who has gone to suchness, the direct realization of the nature of the mind.  Garbha means heart, womb, essence or nature.  We often see tathagata-garbha translated as buddhanature or essence of enlightenment, but we could also translate it as buddha heart, or the womb of those thus gone. This buddha heart is the nature of our own mind, eternally unsullied and replete with all the virtues of a Buddha.  

We can recognize our own buddha heart, and when we do the shell loosens and the qualities of buddhahood become naturally present.

Once beings’ minds have thoroughly matured,
However, whenever, and for whomever,
There can be action that ensures benefit,
It manifests at just that time and in just that way.
Ornament of Clear Realization

There are emanations through artistry, through conscious rebirth, 
and as expressions of sublime enlightenment.
The nirmanakaya of buddhahood
is the supreme skillful means of total freedom.  
Ornament of the Sutras

Monday, March 13, 2017


Tibetan: bar-chay
English: obstacle, hindrance, cut-off

The resistance is real.

One of our main challenges on the path is barchay. We are constantly facing obstacles, problems, and resistance. Every time our aspiration seems to be culminating, some unseen force seems to be holding us back. 

We tend to label circumstances as the obstacle.  If we only had a chance to grab a coffee we would have performed better.  If we weren't caught up in these current projects we would have been able to help. There are all kinds of reasons things didn't work out like they should have. All of those reasons are the resistance, winning. 

This is the battle that we face. The fight between our aspirations and our reality. We know what we would like to do, but this is what our life actually looks like.  Between that gap is a lot of pain and suffering. That gap is a minefield for negative emotions, stress, anxiety and pain. 

This is the battle, turning Dharma into the path. We have a chance to glimpse the authentic and true, but we fall so easily to negative emotions and confusion. The resistance loves nothing more than prolonging our journey, convincing us to take a break, do it tomorrow.  The path, prolonged. Delayed.  We can turn Dharma into the path tomorrow. 

This resistance, all these obstacles and hindrances, they do not lie outside of us.  Outer conditions only supply the moisture for which the seeds of our own afflictions can ripen.  It is our own latent negative emotions, our own innate confusion and neurosis. We have become habituated to our afflictions, mindlessly succumbing to them for eons.  Now is our chance to break the cycle, and yet we feel weak and weary. 

And so we battle. We fight. There may not be so noble a battle as this war that we wage within.   

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A matter of perspective.

You have two eyes with a field of view of about 200 degrees.  Even with those two eyes, you know how much each eyes perception varies.  Close your right eye and you lose some perception, your depth perception changes, your ability to process and respond becomes impaired. 

What would happen if we had four eyes? Or a hundred? 

The lens through which we see the world is shaped by our sensory faculties.  Would we react differently if we had a 360 degree view?  If we could see up and down, right and left?

We see the world through our own eyes, but what if we could start to see the world from others perspective?  Would we be more compassionate and understanding if we could appreciate others point of view?  If our perception wasn't so limited, would we be more responsive and available to others? 

Breaking down barriers and obscurations to our view is an important step in developing wisdom.  No matter how much we meditate, if we always see the world the same then nothing will change.  We need to change our view, shift our perspective.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

Unconditional love.

We are all familiar with love.  We love our family and close friends.  We would do anything to help them.  We take joy in their success, we suffer in their pain and loss. 

We don't often think of this love as conditional.  If we were asked, we would most likely say that it is unconditional love. 

We love them when they make mistakes, or lose their temper.  We give them the benefit of the doubt.  We cut them some slack.  Regardless of the conditions, our love for them endures. 

But this type of love is also really conditional love.  They are those close to us, those in our inner circle.  They are those that we rely heavily upon and who give us support and comfort.  Those are the conditions of our unconditional love. 

But what does unconditional love really look like?

It is never forsaking anyone from your heart.

It is a mind that never gives up hope, is willing to give them another chance.  It is allowing mistakes and imperfections.  Cutting people some slack, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

People are going to do bad things to us.  They are going to deceive us, act out, cause us grief.  But we never close the door.  We never say we are done.  It's never over.

Keep the door ajar.  You don't need to invite them back in, let them come on their own terms.  But keep the door ajar.

By not forsaking others, we give them a chance.  We keep the aspiration that they find happiness and be free from suffering.  We continue to show up, regardless of the conditions. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

The scariest place.

The scariest place is our present state.

Strip away the impulse to reinvent yourself.  Strip away your efforts to improve your lot or accomplish something first.  Strip away your chances of being healed, or cured, or made better.  Strip away whatever it is that you are hoping for or would like to happen.

Right now, as you are, what is revealing itself.

Apply your practice.

Reveal the Buddha within.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Go to places that scare you.

Padampa Sangye made a prophecy to the great female saint Machig Labdron, part of which includes:

Go to places that scare you.  In haunted places, seek the Buddha within yourself.  

He revealed to her that the fruit of her practice was to be found in those places that evoke a lot of emotional and mental discomfort.  Rangjung Dorje says:

Rest wherever your mind is afraid and terrified- that is a place of practice.  

Where do we encounter a lot of resistance in our lives?  What places really challenge us, push our buttons?  Where do we feel intense aversion and the impulse to leave?

Those are the places we should be applying our practice.

Our practice should include a place we can go for refuge and find peace and clarity, where we can rest in our natural buddhanature.  But it should also include places that scare us. 

Can we discover the Buddha within amidst fear and uncertainty?  We should try.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Complexity, simplified.

There are three aspects to a simple spiritual practice:

A spiritual friend.
A mind of faith, diligence and wisdom.

Your spiritual friend doesn't need to be a guru.  They should be someone who inspires you, someone you trust.  They are compassionate and kind, with a gentle heart and an open mind.  They don't need to have a fancy title, but they should be someone you admire and hold in esteem. 

A mind of faith is one that has an admiration for, longing towards, and trust in what is authentic and true.  With this as our compass, we diligently, day after day, month after month, devote ourselves to our practice.  The result of this pursuit what what is authentic and true is wisdom.  Seeing things as they are, we make connections, see implications.  We gain certainty and eliminate doubts. 

Our practice must be shared, so art completes the practice.  Generosity as art, sharing kind words and deeds.  We extend our love and respect to others.  We listen, hear their pain, understand their problems.  Dignity is a gift worth sharing for those who long for it. 

These three aspects form the bedrock for a strong spiritual practice.  They simplify the complexity of the path.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Diligence doesn't mean intensity.

Diligence doesn't mean intensity.

It doesn't mean you have to sprint all the time.  It doesn't mean working yourself to death.

Diligence is the constant application of your practice to the circumstances of your life.

Diligence is continued effort.  Effort today, tomorrow and the next, month after month, year after year.  Effort when times are good, effort when times are bad.  Effort, when it is convenient and when it is not. 

Your list of goals will change, your responsibilities will shift and flux, yet you continue with dedication in your practice.

That is diligence. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Feeling stuck.

Disbelief is a refusal or unwillingness to accept something as true. 

Disbelief is categorized as one of the fifty-one negative mental states in the Abhidharmakosa. It is a negative mental state because disbelief supports torpor.  It engenders laziness or lethargy.  It supports feeling stagnant or stuck, not knowing what to do.

Many of us are faced with times of uncertainty.  Part of that uncertainty is an unwillingness to accept our current situation, a refusal to look at what is actually going on.  That unwillingness to accept our reality makes us feel stuck and powerless, but it is not actually the situation that makes us powerless but our orientation to it.

Our mental state- one of unwillingness or refusal to acknowledge what is going on- prevents us from actually acting.  It prevents us from moving forward, from taking a step.  It holds us back because in order to dance we need to have a partner, and I refuse to dance with this one.

So getting unstuck is an act of faith.  Not because we need to believe the reality of our situation, but because we can still seek out what is authentic and true despite the gravity of the current circumstances.  

Our biggest challenge is determining which holds more weight in our lives, faith or disbelief. Without faith we are sure to be stuck in troubled waters indeed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I still have faith.

Faith. It's a bit of a touchy word in our culture. It has a lot of baggage. We often look down on faith as a sort of weakness or oddity.

But what is faith?

Mipham Rinpoche says that faith is an admiration for, longing towards, and trust in what is authentic and true. It is a support for determination.

What does faith mean to you?

You could have blind faith. You could believe in a blue cow that grants all of your wishes.  You could have great admiration and trust in that cow.  You could really strive to make sure that it was happy so that he would send down his bounty. (him or a her?)  

That would be a true determination of faith based on your perception of what was authentic and true. I think that this is the type of faith that many of us are wary of, simply because it doesn't make any sense. It doesn't hold up to the facts, to reality. It bears no semblance to our experience and everything else that we hold to be true.  

So if you are one that acts out of reason and logic, does faith play no role in your life?  Can you have faith and still rely on science and philosophy? 

Yes.  An emphatic yes. 

We can have great admiration for what is true and authentic based on reason and logic.  In fact, reason and logic can reaffirm our faith, deepen it. 

We can generate great longing for searching out and discovering what is authentic and true based on reason and logic. We can be scientists and skeptics, philosophers and debaters and still have faith.  The act of searching and analyzing and dissecting can be facets of our faith.

And we can trust in the reason and logic that we have used to come to our conclusions, and to look deeper still. 

The search for what is authentic and true demands faith.  It requires it, because faith supports determination and we need to be determined in our quest for what is authentic and true in order to reach our destination.

I am a man of faith.  Are you?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Your corpse will be beautiful.

You have lived well. 

You've eaten healthy foods.  Enjoyed a disciplined diet.  You have exercised and maintained a fit physique.  Your skin is vibrant, your teeth a brilliant white.  Your hair is always well groomed and trimmed.  Your style, well, it's you.

You can be sure about one thing-

Your corpse will be beautiful.  

Monday, January 9, 2017


Buddhanature awakens a certain reverence in us. 

It is always present, but also inaccessible in our experience. We catch glimpses of it, moments when the clouds dissipate revealing our spacious, clear and peaceful natural condition.

Most of the time we are overwhelmed by everyday concerns. Our minds are busy, distracted. We may have a vague intention to bring benefit to others, but we do not know how to make this intention fully manifest.

Fighting against our own thoughts and emotions, we are unable to enjoy our natural condition.
Caught up in hope and fear, our natural fulfillment escapes us.
Collapsing into our own perspective and situation, we are unable to bring benefit to others.

The basis, our buddhanature, is always present.
The result, our buddhanature fully manifest, seems entirely remote.

With reverence in mind, we prostrate to the embodiment of the Three Jewels, the nature of our own body, speech and mind. Paying homage to our unborn natural condition, we open the doorway to actualizing our natural state.

Namo Manjushri. I prostrate to the glorious, youthful awakened body.
Namo Sushri. I prostrate to the excellent qualities of awakened speech.
Namo Uttamshri. I prostrate to the supreme awakened mind.
Soha. So it is.   

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wheel of tsok.

This meat-
all that appears and exists, the nature of the five Buddha families,
my own body, inseparable from all beings,
we are all impermanent, changing from one body to the next,
changing bodies like clothes,
the mouse becomes the hawk, the cow the crops, lifetime after lifetime.
I am often stricken with the desire to be beyond all this,
but ours is the inherited responsibility to live a life of great purpose,
to be compassionate, generous and kind,
to discover our natural freedom in this very body of flesh,
for the benefit of all beings.  
We should enjoy, question and respect,
but never assume, demean or disregard.

This wine-
this sublime nectar of the dakinis,
with its fragrant bouquet pervading the extent of space,
its bountiful mouthfeel of suchness,
I enjoy the one taste of all samsara and nirvana,
the union of bliss and emptiness.
Everything is encompassed by this single drop,
all perceptions, qualities and experiences dissolving
into the originally pure dharmadhatu, the basic space of phenomena.
Seeing through the intoxicating nature of all appearances,
the Great Mother, Prajnaparamita, is revealed
beyond all thought, description or imagination.
Ah la la.

These are my samaya substances.  This is my commitment.
My vow not to turn from this world.
My commitment to remain, working for the benefit of beings.
Freely enjoying this wheel of tsok,
with nothing to be renounced or forsaken,
I consume all conditions as fuel for my practice.
May the blessings of the Trikaya Guru and assembly of dakinis
soften our hearts and transform our minds!
May the blessings of this completely virtuous Younge practice tradition ripen and flourish!
May we all gain accomplishment as one mandala!
Emaho Ah la la ho!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Trainers, coaches and mentors.

The personal trainer helps someone who has never done the practice to get started.  Helps them to learn the techniques.  To stay motivated.  The personal trainer says, "Be here at 6pm and give me a hundred pushups."
The coach works with people who are passionate about the practice and want to get better, to overcome weaknesses.  They help them actualize their potential.  The coach says, "Great job on last weeks pushups. Your thighs are underdeveloped so let's work on those this week."   
The mentor works with people when they need them.  They build lifelong personal relationships.  They inspire, connect the dots and build a bigger picture.  The mentor says, "I have enjoyed watching you overcome challenge after challenge this past year.  How were you able to work through pain and failure along the way? What are you going to focus on this year?"
Each of these requires a different level of time and energy.  Each has its own function and purpose.  
Do we need more personal trainers?  Definitely, a lot of people don't know how to do the practice or how to get past their own personal obstacles.  
Do we need better coaches?  Definitely, a lot of people have their own practice, but either feel stuck or don't see how it all fits together.  
Do we need more mentors?  Of course.  We need people who are generous with their time and energy, people who are willing to be present, to listen and to nudge.    

The personal trainer isn't doing their job if they are acting like a mentor.  A mentor who gets wrapped up in the specifics and tries to control outcomes and results isn't a mentor at all.  

Which are you trying to be?  What does your student need?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Endless iterations.

You're probably not going to be doing your practice in five years.  Even less likely in ten or twenty years.  It's just not probable.  

Merit is an uncommon trait here in the West.  We don't really refer to each other as having merit or even cultivating merit.  Its not something that we place much value on, day to day.

Merit is something really important when practicing the Buddha's teachings.  Merit refers to the potential of the mind.  It can be thought of as the impetus, the reservoir, the force.  None of those really do it justice though, because really merit refers to the capacity to hold or bear, the capacity to carry, or even continue.

When you think about a person encountering the Dharma, it is highly unlikely that this person will be able to actually meet with the teachings, practice them, carry them through their life and achieve some kind of result or realization.  It is just not very likely.  We have so much of our own baggage, so many problems and worldly concerns.  And that is all within the context of what is going on right now in our lives.

Over the course of our single lifetime we go through countless iterations.  The chance that we will be able to carry your practice through that much variability and resistance is even less likely.  Our modern society and the demands on the individual are constantly changing.  For someone to have encountered the Dharma and put it into practice in their middle ages, then to go through times of struggle, changing professions, seeing loved ones come and go, making friends, losing friends, moving, falling in love, breaking up, falling sick, being healed.   We cycle through endless iterations.

The amount of merit that we need for our practice to endure amidst all of those changing circumstances, well, it is beyond measure.  It is truly amazing that we can encounter practitioners who are able to carry their practice from year to year, generation to generation.  We should rejoice in their dedication, commitment and resilience.   We should also aspire to develop such merit and determination ourselves. 

Those practitioners of virtue are said to have great merit, but if you talk to them they won't talk about their potential, or about how strong of an impetus they feel to practice.  They won't refer to themselves as being special at all.  Instead, you will see that their minds are like a vast ocean, able to accommodate and accept whatever is placed in their path.  They go through endless iterations just like us, but for them, they are just like waves or boats that come and go.  The iterations they go through in their life don't confine their practice, but rather the 'stuff' that makes their practice continue to be possible. 

Practitioners lacking merit feel trapped by circumstances,
those rich in merit take it as fuel on the path.