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.