Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Unique Dzogchen Mindfulness and Vigilance

Everyone is familiar with mindfulness. Mindfulness is often described as focus or attention directed towards a particular object. We can be mindful of our breath, mindful of the way we walk or our daily activities, like washing the dishes. In this sense, mindfulness is synonymous with attention or focus.

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention on purpose, in the present and without judgment. That is a useful definition, but again here the indirect meaning is that we are paying attention to some thing.

In Dzogchen we also employ mindfulness, but in Dzogchen there is no object of focus. The practice of Dzogchen is said to be without support

How do we be mindful, but not mindful of any thing?

We can define mindfulness in the Dzogchen tradition as an uncontrived, open presence free from judgment.

It is uncontrived because we are not directing our attention towards anything in particular and we are not trying to make anything happen. It is open presence because we are alert and aware, here and now. It is without judgment because we are not concerned with the contents of what is arising in our experience, whether it is good or bad, painful or pleasurable.

We simply rest in uncontrived, open presence free from judgment.

At first this takes a lot of effort. The habitual instincts of our mind is to be engrossed and fixate on our experience. We chase after sights and sounds. We follow trails of thought and get caught up in a web of stories. Our attention picks out objects, clings to them and gets caught up in distraction. This is where vigilance comes into play.

Vigilance is a clear, alert peripheral awareness that guards our meditation. Vigilance can be both extrospective and introspective awareness. We are aware of various appearances to our senses, but we also clearly see the array of thoughts and emotions coming up in our internal experience. In this way, vigilance is like a transparent looking glass, it sees everything but doesn't react to it. It is mindfulness which does the fine tuning, when it is necessary.

Vigilance notices when our attention has strayed towards an object or appearance. Noting that we have strayed, we use mindfulness to again rest in the uncontrived, natural state. As we train ourselves to rest in the natural state, the wandering of attention becomes less and less, eventually giving way to effortless mindfulness.

In effortless mindfulness, the strength of vigilance becomes further intensified and more powerful. It is like a sharp razor that cuts through appearances in all their variety. As we continue our training, eventually effortless mindfulness gives way to baseless mindfulness and the actual path of Dzogchen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A simple aspiration prayer.

Every morning as part of my practice I recite a few prayers before settling into meditation. There is one verse that encompasses my intention perhaps more than any other:

Please bless me to see the dharmakaya as my own awareness, 
Please let me take undesirable difficult situations onto the path,
and quickly returning the kindness of all father and mother beings of the six realms,
Bless me to come to the perfection of generosity. 

It is a simple aspiration. It doesn't involve any sort of big project or magical feat. It is within reach at this very moment, but also pervades all times, places and activities. 

Simple, yet its impact on your own life and the lives of others can be profound.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Symbols for awakened mind.

A mirror perfectly reflects anything that is placed in front of it. The various aspects of color, shape and qualities is complete just as it is. Because the mirror is clear, there is no distortion. Whether the object is pure or contaminated, the mirror is not improved upon or brought to ruin.

So it is with awareness.

Space is without support and never comes into existence. It does not abide in any way and it is utterly beyond all description. Yet, anything and everything comes and goes within the sphere of space. Space is not defiled by the arising of impure phenomena. Space is not made more pure by the arising of pure phenomena. It is unchanging, completely unbiased, and encompasses all.

So it is with awareness.

The sun is forever utterly lucid, unobscured and radiant. The sun and its rays are inseparable, they do not come together or separate. Where there are light rays there is no darkness and warmth is felt without bias or expectation.

So it is with awareness.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Spontaneous Presence.

Within the expanse of spontaneous presence is the ground for all that arises.
Empty in essence, continuous by nature,
it has never existed as anything whatsoever, yet arises as anything at all.
Within the expanse of the three kayas, although samsara and nirvana arise naturally,
they do not stray from basic space- such is the blissful realm that is the true nature of phenomena.

Longchen Rabjam, from the Choying Dzod
When we enter into the state of spontaneous presence in our meditation, we have arrived at naked awareness beyond mind. This is the actual introduction to rigpa. Our teacher introduces rigpa through language and signs, but the actual introduction is based on our own experience. That is the real introduction. 

The expanse of spontaneous presence is baseless. We say that it is baseless because there is no ground, there are no concepts about emptiness or the way things exist. The spontaneously present luminosity of the mind is not divided into subject or object, there is no distinction between meditation and post-meditation, no distraction by thoughts, appearances or emotions. Everything dawns as the ornament of awareness, which is itself nothing at all. Longchenpa's quote captures how this single expanse of awareness, which is timelessly pure and spontaneously present, manifests as all that appears and exists whether it is of samsara or nirvana. 

Once we have been directly introduced to this unique state of the natural Great Perfection, our own awareness, we need to gain certainty and perfect its potentiality. To stop here, having been introduced, is not enough. We need to resolve all doubts and uncertainty in order to be decisive about this unique state, not to mention the uncertainty with how to work with this within the world. Once we can carry on this conviction regardless of what is coming up in our experience, whether on the cushion or off, then we can continue with confidence in liberation. 

The great master Longchen Rabjam in his Choying Dzod, the Basic Space of Phenomena, skillfully lays out this path of resolution. He takes a look at questions like:

How do we account for ordinary and pure appearances?
How are we to understand different types of beings? 
How do we approach confusion and suffering?
How are we to understand this unique state of the awakened mind?
How do we understand karma and dependent origination from this unique perspective?
Where are the potential errors and pitfalls in this approach?
What brings accomplishment, what is accomplishment?
How is this different than buddhahood? How is it the same?

Once we have come to a decisive experience that everything is subsumed by the expanse of awareness, we continue with confidence in liberation. The way in which we come to that decisive experience is through the practice of trekchod and thogal, which are the two paths of training in the practice of Dzogchen. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


The four foundations of Dzogchen naturally unfold in our meditation if we are able to maintain the uncontrived natural state. Each stage is marked not by a sense of accomplishment or progress being made, but rather by what we are not able to resolve in our meditation or where we are getting stuck.

Initially, we are distracted by the play of appearances and the diverse experiences that arise in our meditation. As we gain agility in working with appearances, we can have a very clear appreciation of our meditation moving from the immovable state to single-pointedly abiding in rigpa. As we continue to cut through dualistic appearances and to not fall prey to subtle distraction or dullness, the single-pointed state becomes like a vast limpid ocean. This is the state of equanimity.

In the state of equanimity, stability and clarity are equal. Whatever arises in our meditation is equal in being the dynamic energy of awareness, or rigpa tsal.

There is no need for other methods. There is no doubt, no excitement. Everything is equal.

Clarity and dullness are equal in nature, equal in experience. Clarity and emptiness are equal. Stability and clarity are equal.

Often in meditation, too much stability can lead to dullness. Here, abiding in equanimity, stability induces clarity.

Often in meditation, too much clarity can lead to agitation. Here, abiding in equanimity, clarity induces stability.

It is here that the subtle Dzogchen mindfulness that we employed moves from effort to effortless. Mindfulness here is really mindfulness of the instruction, of the pointing out. While previously, as we struggled to resolve appearances, we employed a subtle mindfulness that allowed us to cut through appearances. Here, that mindfulness becomes completely effortless.

As we gain greater stability in the state of equanimity, we eventually cut through to baseless spontaneous presence, naked awareness beyond mind. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

A flash in the pan.

A formal meditation session is composed of three parts- intention, main practice, and dedication.

Our intention is the why of the practice. Why are we sitting? What is our aspiration?

The main practice is applying ourselves to the meditation instructions.

The dedication is sharing the merit and benefits of the practice with others.

It is good to have a formal meditation session each day. Generally the morning or evening work best, but whatever fits your schedule is fine.

There is another type of practice that you will find yourself engaging in throughout the day. That is the sudden or flash meditation. These are the moments in your day when suddenly, awareness lights up and you recognize the meditative awareness. You mind is instantly calm, clear and at ease. Your attention is focused, yet expansive.

You might encounter these moments in conversation, during commutes, walking, or simply drinking a glass of water.

These moments of clarity and insight are important to your practice. Try to give rise to them throughout your day. Can the next meeting you have be one in which you enter with an open, calm and clear mind?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Retreat Guide: Preparing for a solo retreat

A meditation retreat is an opportunity to immerse yourself in practice. A daily meditation practice is very powerful and can bring a lot of benefit, but doing occasional immersions can transform and deepen your practice in ways that a daily practice often doesn't accomplish. Many people that I know and have went on retreat with have shared a similar experience- it takes about two or three days to really settle into a retreat. If you cannot devote an extended weekend or a week to retreat, it can also be very powerful to do one day a week or one weekend a month. These shorter immersions can allow for greater depth and over time we are able to enter into the retreat with much more familiarity.

You don't need to go anywhere to do retreat. You can do it at home if your housing companions are supportive. You can also rent out a cabin or go to an actual meditation retreat center. I have done retreats in my bedroom, at cabins, and at retreat centers. They all work just fine. The best environment is one that supports your practice- ideally it would be quiet and peaceful, with all the resources necessary for your daily activities.

There are several key aspects to having a successful retreat experience. What does a successful retreat looks like? It is one in which we actually do the practice. We actually sit and meditate. We encounter all the resistance of not wanting to meditate. We struggle, let go, battle, and relax. A lot of stuff can come up during retreat, being prepared and having everything in order can improve the whole experience.

Preparation is one of the major keys to a successful retreat experience. Plan your schedule, your food, your activities. Have all your retreat materials squared away. Resolve all of your everyday tasks. If you have to send someone an email, do it before retreat. You don't want to scheme and plan while on retreat. Do your scheming and your planning beforehand.

Traditionally, meditation retreats follow a four-session schedule. You may adapt or adjust the times, and may change the focus for each session, but in general a four-session schedule keeps you focused on practice and not being idle or caught up in distraction. Here is a typical retreat schedule:

6-8am Morning Session 
8-9am Breakfast
9-12pm Mid-morning Session (15 minute tea break at midpoint)
12pm-2pm Lunch and Break
2-5pm Afternoon Session (15 minute tea break at midpoint)
5-6pm Break
6-8pm Evening Session and Dedication
9pm-5am Sleep

Keep it simple. Plan your meals ahead. You don't want to plan and think about what you are going to eat or try to find a recipe while on retreat. Stick with nutritious and easy to digest foods. Drink lots of water and tea. Coffee is totally fine. For breakfast, I like to do oatmeal with some fruit- quick, easy and satisfying. For lunch and dinner, think about making a big pot of soup before the retreat and live off of that for a few days. You may even consider only eating breakfast and lunch, which is one of the pratimoksha vows a monk would uphold. If you are going to cook on retreat, integrate it with your practice. Be mindful, relaxed, present. Don't rush, simply cook.

Sleep is important while on retreat. Go to be early and rise early. I usually try to go to bed by 10 pm and get up around 5am. Take a nap in the afternoon! Keep it short, but a 30 minute nap after lunch is refreshing and allows your mind and body to rest. You may find as you sustain your awareness into sleep that you will have more vivid dreams and sleep lighter. Retreat is a good time to practice Dream Yoga and to rest in the clear light nature of mind.

Retreat isn't a time for many activities, your time should be devoted to your practice. Turn off your cell phone and internet. Don't check email or your social networks. During the break between sessions, you may want to write, reflect, read, or simply be present and attentive to your surroundings. Sit outside. Today is a day for not doing.

Movement and exercise are both important during retreat. Most of us are not used to sitting in meditation for extended periods during the day. You will likely find that your knees, hips and back can feel pretty tight. When our body is tired, our meditation becomes like a thick fog and we end up constantly fighting our bodies. Spend some time during breaks walking outdoors. Do yoga, qi qong or tai chi. Stretch, do some muscle stimulating movements. Do prostrations. Spending twenty minutes twice a day on exercise and movement will dramatically improve your overall experience. If you already have a strong practice routine like yoga, you could do an hour out of the mid-morning and afternoon sessions and devote it to that practice.

A major component of retreat is slowing down and being more present and attentive. Taking a vow of silence or having silence play a part in your retreat can be very powerful. If you are doing a retreat by yourself, silence may seem easy, but we still may find that we are singing, talking to ourselves, listening to music or just making noise. Try to cultivate silence for at least a portion of the day, preferably the morning if nothing else. Pour your tea, stir your hot water into your oatmeal, and enjoy your breakfast in silence. Use your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste buds, your touch, but not your words.

Your arrival to the retreat is a time of transition and change. Enter the retreat setting with mindfulness and presence. Unpack your stuff if you are traveling and setup your retreat space as planned. It is best to arrive the evening before your retreat officially starts, so you can take all the time you need to setup and get acquainted with the setting. It is also nice to do a brief session in the evening, making aspirational prayers and other offerings like Riwo Sang Chod to establish a positive connection and set the tone for the retreat.

Your retreat is finished and it is time to transition back to your normal routine. Dedicate your practice. Take some time to contemplate and write. Maintain your continuity of awareness and mindfulness as you return to your normal daily life. Retreat never really ends, it is we who eventually turn off and tune out. What does it look like to carry open presence, availability and responsiveness into your daily life? It looks a lot like compassion, generosity and kindness. Everything becomes practice, your life becomes the path.

A meditation retreat is often a very powerful and transformative experience. You don't need to live the way everyone else does. You can embody the teachings, even in our busy and distracted culture. If you have a teacher, consult them before the retreat for advice and some practice instructions. If you don't have a teacher, feel free to reach out to me or someone that you trust and feel comfortable discussing your practice with.

We all benefit through your practice. Thank you for your dedication and commitment.

Monday, September 25, 2017


As we gain greater stability in the immovable state of the four foundations of Dzogchen meditation, we enter into the state of unification where we remain as long as we can in unwavering rigpa.

Without holding onto objects, without applying antidotes, we simply rest free from the elaboration of concepts.

Recognize the play of rigpa. Recognize the ornaments of awareness.

If your meditation is uncontrived, it is possible to sustain this state. It depends on whether or not you can cut the root of dualistic mind that differentiates between a subjective perceiver and objective appearances.

There is an aspect of abiding in this meditation, but there are also subtle degrees of agitation and dullness. If we are not able to resolve the appearances of the ground, we fall prey to a dualistic mind. There is also a real danger of falling prey to a subtle dullness without clarity, which is simply resting in the alaya consciousness, or the foundational consciousness which is the basis of samsara.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


The first of the four foundations of Dzogchen meditation is immovable. As a preparatory practice we want to settle the mind and be able to recognize and abide in the nature of mind. Having been introduced to the Dzogchen view, we can sustain that view and eliminate errors and deviation through the practice of the four foundations.

First, we rely on the three immovables.
Immovable body, like a mountain.
Immovable gaze, like a lion.
Immovable awareness, like the sky.

Immovable body, like a mountain. The body is relaxed and uncontrived, seated in the Vairocana posture. Don't chase after feelings or sensations, simply rest the body, breathing naturally. Don't itch, don't alter, don't adjust.

Immovable gaze, like a lion. Leave the sense organs open and uncontrived, free from grasping. The gaze is open, like looking over a vast mountain valley, but steady like a lion. A dog's gaze chases after everything that appears before it, hopping from one focus to another. We don't want to focus on any particular object or point, keep the gaze steady, but expansive, like your field of vision is the space around you.

Immovable awareness, like the sky. Whatever clouds or weather moves through the sky, the sky remains unstained. There is no good or bad, nothing to accept or reject, nothing to hold onto or push away. Relax in an uncontrived, open awareness free from thoughts or fabrication.

We can also describe the immovable state in terms of outer, inner and secret.

Outer is the body in the Vairocana posture.
Inner is uncontrived, without altering or chasing, without effort. Free from expectation, hope and fear.
Secret is kadag, original purity. Recognize the potency of rigpa arising from the ground of original purity and let everything dissolve back into the ground of original purity, free from any reaction or judgement.

Relying on the unique Dzogchen mindfulness we sustain the view of rigpa. Without being distracted by appearances or the internal display of mind, we simply rest in an experience of unceasing clarity.

As we gain greater stability in immovable state, we enter the single-pointed state.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Three essential points.

In the practice of Dzogchen, we are introduced to rigpa, or intrinsic awareness. We cannot be directly introduced to rigpa without relying on the mind, so we need to recognize the way the mind arises, abides and ceases.

All that appears and exists within samsara and nirvana is the play of one's mind. If we understand this, then we are able to recognize and work with the appearances of the mind, whether they are thoughts, sights, sounds or emotions. It is not sufficient to simply recognize appearances as mind, we need to exhaust them into the basis of the mind itself. We need to sustain transparent awareness.

There are three ways of describing the apparent quality of rigpa.

rtsal is the potency or dynamic energy of rigpa
rolpa is the display, such as thoughts or negative emotions
rgyen are the ornaments of awareness as external appearances in all their variety.

Relying on this understanding, we can rely on three essential points to bring us closer to recognizing rigpa:

1. Recognize the nature of mind.
Through instruction, recognize your own face without doubt. All appearances manifest from the nature of mind and mind itself has not been found.

2. Mind settles into the ground itself.
When negative emotions, thoughts or appearances arise, we are able to recognize and let them settle in their own place, such that we do not fall prey to their arising.

3. Ability to gain freedom from mind.
Through practice, mind is no longer prey to whatever is coming up in our experience, even death, bardo, sickness or rebirth. Mind is free in its own place.

This upadesha was given by Younge Khachab Rinpoche on September 15, 2012.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Toolbox.

Meditation is a tool, and as a tool there are many different forms that it takes. Some types of meditation are better at calming the mind, others for inducing clarity or insight. Some give rise to bliss, others to peace and equanimity.

In our practice of shamatha, we have several different types of meditation that we should keep in our toolbox and gain familiarity with.

Meditation with an Object

The Breath. The breath is probably the most common meditation technique. The mind and breath are intimately linked, so as we work with the breath we work on the mind. The technique is simple, simply observe the inhale and exhale of the breath. Some people focus on the feeling of the breath passing by the nostrils, others prefer to focus on the gentle rise and fall of the upper stomach as you inhale and exhale. Whatever method you prefer, simply connect with the inhale and exhale of the breath. It isn't necessary to count, just breathe naturally.

A thigle of light. A common technique within the Tibetan tradition is to focus on an internal drop or thigle of light. This thigle is often focused on within the heart chakra or some other chakra, and serves as a visualized support for your practice. Focus on a brilliant white drop of light in the center of your heart, then connect with the inhale and exhale of the breath. As you inhale, imagine that light becoming more brilliant, as you exhale imagine it becoming more stable. There are many alternative methods for working with thigles in meditation.

Vajra breathing. Similar to focusing on the breath, you can visualize yourself in the form of your yidam or as a clear body of light. As you inhale, recognize the resonance of the breath as OM. As the breath abides, recognize it as AH. As you exhale, recognize the resonance of the breath as HUNG. In this way we connect the breath with mantra. Initially this practice can be rather conceptual and you may find yourself reciting OM, AH, HUNG. As you gain more familiarity with the practice and the sound of mantra the words will fall away and you can simply observe the breath as inseparable from mantra.

Enhancement techniques. When you are drowsy or your meditation is dull, you can focus on a white thigle of light at your third eye. Alternatively, you can imagine the white thigle at your heart shooting up through your crown and extending further and further into the sky, almost like traveling up an elevator. When you are experiencing distraction or agitation, you can visualize a black heavy thigle in your navel, pulling you down into the ground like a heavy weight. Alternatively, you can imagine it shooting down into the ground, anchoring and grounding you. These enhancement techniques can be used initially to cultivate a calm, clear mind, or they can be used as remedial techniques to work with distraction and dullness during meditation.

There are many other forms of object based meditation, including practices like Guru Yoga, mantra meditation and other tantric practices. If you have instruction in those meditation techniques feel free to use them as you have been taught. 

Meditation without an Object

Resting in the natural state. This type of meditation is unique to Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Simply relax the body, breath and mind. Don't worry about the past. Don't speculate about the future. Simply rest, without judging the present or cultivating expectations. Relax into the uncontrived natural state. In this meditation we want to recognize and rest in the nature of the mind, which is unceasing luminous emptiness. That can be difficult at first, as we learn to work with mind and its appearances. Any attempt to manipulate, correct, adjust or fix is mistaken. Simply relax in open presence.

Sitting in a comfortable meditative posture,
Our body is left open, relaxed.
The shoulders, neck and face are relaxed,
The eyes are left open, gently gazing into the space before oneself.
The breath is natural- gentle and uncontrived.
The senses are open, free from fixation,
Let whatever appears be as it is.
Don’t fixate- on feelings, thoughts, sights or sounds.
Just relax and settle, like waves on water.
Slowly, like mud settling out,
The mind will become calm and clear.
Rest in the natural state.

Any of these techniques can be used in our meditation. Become familiar with each of them. Develop your toolbox. Some you will naturally gravitate towards, others may be useful in certain situations. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Metaphors for the progression of your practice.

The process of developing our shamatha practice of calm abiding develops through five stages of experience. This progression of experience can be described through five metaphors.

Waterfall. The first experience of shamatha is movement. When we sit down the first thing we discover is that our thoughts, feelings and sensations are raging like water cascading down a steep cliff. This is the first experience which is like a waterfall.

Torrent in a deep ravine. The second experience is attainment. Our mind, which was once cascading and all over the place is being channeled and brought to focus. We discover in the stages of settling the mind and continuously settling that the mind is incredibly powerful and provides a lot of resistance to being directed towards our object of meditation. Effort is required to keep bringing the mind back to its focus. This is the second experience which is like a torrent in a deep ravine.

Meandering river. The third experience of shamatha is familiarization. The raging waters of our mind have calmed considerable, and we have discovered a gently flowing current. Within this river of meditation, we still experience the currents of agitation and dullness pulling us away from our focus, but we are able to come back and rest much more easily.  This third experience which is like a meandering river is like the stages of completely settled mind and the subsequent stages of training and calming the mind as we continue to work with the movement of the mind.

Ocean free of waves. The fourth experience is stability. The waters of our mind have merged with the great ocean which is free from waves. This is the fourth experience of resting in single-pointedness in which the mind does not waver, like an ocean free of waves.

A candle flame unstirred by any breeze. The fifth experience of shamatha is consummation. This is the stage of resting in equanimity in which the mind rests naturally in a state of limpid clarity, like a candle that is unstirred by any breeze. It is the state free from effort in which we experience the total pliancy of mind and body.

These five metaphors describe the progression that takes place in your meditation as you deepen your practice of shamatha. You can further understand and appreciate these experiences by contemplating the four ways of working with the mind and the eight remedial techniques that eliminate the five flaws of meditation.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A key distinction.

When we have arrived at the completely settled state, we can enjoy a degree of peace and clarity. We have found a place of rest and have attained an approximation of the result of practicing shamatha.

What distinguishes this completely settled state from the state of resting in equanimity?

Total pliancy of mind and body.

When we are resting in the completely settled state, there is a sense of being enough, but the movement of the mind stirs ever so gently and we end up cycling through various thoughts about the past, future or our present condition. There isn't that sense of deep inner wealth that continues to fuel our meditation.

Our mind and body also continue to act as problems for our meditation. We get physically and mentally tired, we experience soreness or pain, and we lose our focus. We fight what is coming up in our mind and body as we strive towards our goal of resting single-pointedly.

The state of resting in equanimity is effortless. We aren't involved with struggle or achievement. Our minds simply rest naturally, and we can enjoy a deep sense of well-being, clarity and freedom from the elaboration of thoughts.

The completely settled state is not far from resting in equanimity, but we have much more work to do.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Movement within stillness.

When we first sit down to meditate, the first thing we experience is movement. Through continued effort and relying on proper meditation instruction, we can arrive at a place of stillness and peace.

When the mind is completely settled, a lot of the gross thoughts and emotions that might disturb our focus have settled down. We can direct our mind and rest simply in a state of calm clarity. Within this stillness, we discover another layer of movement. How we work with that movement determines our progress and the rest of the path ahead.

The nature of the mind is unceasing luminous emptiness. Being empty, it is groundless with nothing to find or hold onto. Being luminous it arises as the variety of thoughts, appearances, sounds and sensations without end.

If we cling to the appearances arising in our meditation, we get caught up in the cycle of distraction and agitation. If we learn to leave thoughts and appearances free in their own place, our focus does not wander and we sink deeper into a state of single-pointedness.

So much of the training is how we work with movement, how we resolve sights, sounds and appearances.

Go sit. Bring your mind to a place of rest. Notice the movement within stillness.

How do you work with it?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Four ways of working with the mind.

As we are learning to bring the mind to rest, settling into a calm and clear mind, we will encounter four different ways of working with the mind.

First, we encounter involvement with effort.

When we first sit down to settle the mind, we encounter movement. Lots of movement. It is not easy to rest the mind, to focus it on our intended object. The first stages of bringing the mind to rest require effort. If we don't bring effort into our meditation, we simply rest in our monkey mind and that will not bring any result, at least not the result we are looking for. We need to apply effort to settle our mind and to continuously settle as we experience distractions.

Second, we encounter involvement with interruption.

We have started to settle the mind and prolong that experience. Then, we experience interruption in the form of thoughts, emotions and sensations that pull us away. Using mindfulness and vigilance, we recognize that we are distracted and come back to our object of meditation. Settle. Wander. Come back. Our practice is involved with interruption from the stages of continuously resettling the mind through the stage of completely calming the mind, as we continue to learn how to work with agitation and dullness.

Third, we encounter involvement without interruption.

Once you have gained agility working with agitation and dullness, you arrive at the stage of single-pointedness in which you are no longer affected by these waves of thoughts and emotions. There is still some subtle effort of mindfulness and vigilance at play here, but one does not fall out of meditation into states of distraction.

Fourth, we encounter effortless involvement.

Having settled the mind into a state of equanimity, you can effortlessly maintain the practice without the need for additional applications or remedies. Applying effort at this stage would be a fault, contriving something to be done. One simply rests in complete evenness. The mind abides in a state of limpid clarity, with no stirring or wavering.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Six Forces.

The practice of shamatha or calm abiding develops on the basis of the six powers or forces. Without relying on these six forces, we will struggle to give rise to a calm and clear mind, much less to rest in a place of comfort and ease.

The first force is listening and studying the teachings. If we do not study or listen to teachings, we will not know what we should focus on in our meditation. The teachings are meant to show us the path. Knowing the path, we can choose to follow it. The first power ensures the first step of settling the mind.

The second force is reflecting and contemplating what you have learned. It is not enough to read numerous texts and acquire knowledge. We need to apply that knowledge to our own experience. Reflection and contemplation enable us to continously settle the mind.

The third force is mindfulness. Mindfulness brings us back. It is like a rope, we may wander off for a bit, but eventually the rope draws taunt and brings us back. We get distracted again and again in meditation, mindfulness is the process of coming back. With mindfulness, we accomplish the stages of continuously resettling and completely settled mind.

The fourth force is vigilance. Vigilance keeps a careful watch. It is the guard in the watchtower at night. Vigilance sees the faults of agitation and dullness. With vigilance we can ensure that we progress through the stages of training and calming the mind.

The fifth force is diligence. Diligence is the continued effort of overcoming the challenges and problems that arise in meditation. Diligence ensures that we move through the stages of complete calming and single-pointedness until all distractions and hindrances are eliminated.

The sixth force is complete familiarity. There is no more wandering, no more distraction. The mind rests in equanimity. The ocean is no longer stirred by waves of thoughts or emotions. It is lucid, calm and clear.

Relying on these six forces, we can give rise to a mind that is calm and clear. We can bring the mind to rest.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Nine Ways of Resting the Mind

There are nine stages that we pass through when cultivating a calm, clear mind through the practice of shamatha, or calm abiding. These nine are:

1. Settling the Mind.
We focus the mind on some object, whether an outer form like the image of a Buddha or an inner object such as a drop of light or the breath. This might be only for a moment.
2. Continuous Settling.
We prolong our focus on our object of meditation. We maintain our mindfulness for another breath. We aren't distracted by the first thought that floats through our head. A small stream of the present opens up.
3. Continuously Resettling.
We become distracted, recognize it as such and come back to our object of meditation. Mindfulness recognizes that we have wavered, that our attention has strayed. Vigilance brings us back to our object. We wander, we come back and resettle.
4. Completely Settled.
Our mind is settled and our focus doesn't waver as thoughts, emotions or sensations rise and fall. Our meditation is more calm and clear. A more refined and subtle mind is apparent, but we still experience agitation and dullness, distraction and heaviness.

Stages 5-7 address how we work with this agitation and dullness. The completely settled state isn't inert. It is vibrant, dynamic, full of movement. The radiance of the mind continues to unfold. How do we continue to work with that experience and go deeper?

5. Training the Mind.
As we rest in the completely settled mind, we may experience various degrees of heaviness or dullness. Our mind is calm, but there is no light. We lack the fuel, the enthusiasm or the inspiration to continue to progress in our meditation. Reflecting on the positive qualities of meditation, engaging in virtuous acts, cultivating devotion or reverence for your teacher, all of these can breath fresh air into your meditation.
6. Calming.
Resting in the completely settled mind, we may experience restlessness and agitation. Thoughts stir, memories unfold, emotions rise and fall. We should recognize the faults of distraction and pacify any resistance to developing our meditative absorption.
7. Completely calming.
Interruptions are few and far between. Little of what we experience pulls us away from our focus. Our minds are not as enraptured by good or bad feelings, thoughts are like small clouds that float through the sky or like water bubbles.

As we gain agility in resolving agitation and dullness in our meditation, we progress to the final stages of shamatha.

8. Single-pointedness.
Whereas once our meditation involved a lot of effort and struggle, now it is without interruption and stable. There is still some subtle effort at play in this stage, still some remedial work using various applications to resolve distraction.
9. Resting in equanimity.
Our minds rest naturally in evenness, without the effort of having to apply any remedies. The mind is calm and clear, like a candle flame unstirred by the breeze. One rests in the state of total mental and physical pliancy, endowed with well-being, clarity and the absence of concepts or mental stirring. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Settling the Mind.

Take your seat. Meditate for ten minutes using any method that you are familiar with. You might focus on your breath, visualize an internal drop of light, focus on a mantra, or rest in the uncontrived natural state.

What is your experience? What do you notice? What are some of the challenges or problems that come up?

One of the first things you will probably notice is movement.

You experience thoughts racing, sensations coursing through your body- pain, itching, tightness. You notice all of this movement, which normally goes unseen and unrecognized.

Movement is the first experience of meditation. Now you know how stirred up you are. You may have a conceptual idea of resting the mind and what that should look and feel like, but when you sit what you actually experience is movement.

Which is good.

What we are experiencing is our own mind- complete with thoughts, emotions, sense perceptions, habits and memories. We are having a direct encounter with our crazy monkey mind.

At this point in your practice it is important to rely on study. What is meditation? What are methods for dealing with obstacles? Really investigate what is mind, what is the nature of mind? What is the basis for what we experience in meditation? Are the things we experience momentary and fleeting or do they have some real substance? Investigate cause and effect, look at where you are stuck or what you are holding onto. Dig deeper into your experience.

Don't beat yourself up. Don't make your practice into a big project. Learn to relax. Let go.

It is okay if it doesn't happen right away. It is important to develop the habit of settling and resting. Put your effort into showing up without expectation or judgment. Be present, be here. Even if the present is loud and unsettled, it is enough for now. 

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 siddhearta@gmail.com.

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.