Thursday, June 28, 2012


The third preliminary is the contemplation on karma.  Karma means action, or cause and effect.  For the purpose of this contemplation it is necessary to give up any preconceptions based on pop culture's notion of good and bad karma for it does not encompass the Buddha's intent when he gave these teachings.  The key point of karma is summarized very well in the Essence of Dependent Origination dharani:

om ye dharma hetu prabhava hetun tesam tathagato hayavadat tesam ca yo nirodha evam vadi maha shramana soha
All phenomena arise from causes and those causes have been taught by the Tathagata,
Their cessation too has been proclaimed by the great practitioner of virtue.

There are several implications to consider when contemplating karma.  The first is that the world is shaped by our intentions.  We find in Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa:

The variety of the world arises from action.
[Action] is intention and that which is produced through intention.
Intention is mental action-
It gives rise to two types of action, physical and verbal action.

 And also in the Dhammapada: 

Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.
Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.
Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.

Right now we are the culmination of all of our past thoughts, actions, choices and habitual tendencies.  The thoughts, actions and choices that we make today will determine who and where we are in the future.  

Often we hear the following, "What are you gonna do, that's life."  I think we have all said that at one time or another, but if you think about that statement within the context of karma it is filled with ignorance.  A lot of the time we have this notion that life happens to us, rather than we who are responsible for creating our reality.  It is a matter of determining whether we are an active participant or a passive observer.  

Think of this in terms of worldly pursuits- our education, health, career and family.  How does this implication- that the world is shaped by our intentions- play out in these settings?  Are we active participants or passive observers?  

Think of this in terms of our spiritual growth.  Our religion is not simply some organization that we belong to,  it is an expression of our spirituality whether we acknowledge it or not.  I think this is the intent when the Buddha said the following:

I can show you the door, but you must walk through it. 

The second implication is that actions never fail to produce an effect.  In the span of a day we have numerous thoughts, choices and actions.  It is easy (easy for me at least) to write off the little things as 'This doesn't matter', or 'just this one time'.  But just as a birds shadow may not be readily apparent as it soars through the sky only to return again when it lands, every act we engage in influences the course of our life.  A great saying by Lao Tzu:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

And also the Buddha:

You will not be punished for your anger,
You will be punished by your anger.

The third implication is that the eight worldly concerns lead us astray.  The eight worldly concerns are getting caught up in happiness and suffering, praise or blame, fame or shame, and gain or loss.    Like a fish on a hook, we latch onto these concerns and through the process of cause and effect we are caught in an unending cycle of negative mental states.  

The fourth implication is that of generating merit.  Merit is a concept that isn't understood or appreciated in the West.  Merit really refers to a positive potential of mind.  It is a mind that, when adequately prepared and cultivated, is able to withstand significant hardship, loss, pain and suffering.  We often do not think of our mind in this manner, but it is equivalent to always carrying a trump card so that no matter what cards you are dealt in life you can still play the game. 

When we understand karma and its intimacy with our present and future state, then we can embrace the larger scope.  It is we who are responsible for our own happiness and suffering and our effect on the world around us.  Our intentions, choices and actions create the world around us each and every day.  Karma is not something you believe in, it doesn't matter if you believe or not.  Cause and effect do not operate on moral imperatives, it is we who punish ourselves. 

Having embraced the larger scope we come to a decisive experience of karma.  As long as we rely on conditioned phenomena we are subject to karma.  As long as we rely on mind and mental factors we will never move beyond suffering, because we will continue to plant seeds that will indefinitely ripen.  We need to come to a direct experience of the unconditioned nature of mind, only then is it possible to break free from the cage of karma, habitual patterns and afflictive emotions.  

It is vital that we come to a decisive experience of karma by studying, contemplating and meditating on the teachings. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The second preliminary is the contemplation on impermanence.  The key point is that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent.

There are several implications to consider when contemplating impermanence.  First is the impermanence of the outer world.  No matter where we look we cannot find anything permanent or lasting.  Our environment composed of mountains, lakes and trees is constantly changing.  The beings that live in the world are constantly undergoing birth, aging, sickness and death.  No matter where we look, high or low, nothing permanent or lasting can be found.

Second, we can examine the inner world- our own life, body, thoughts and feelings.  When we look closely, we cannot find anything that withstands the test of time.  Our body undergoes many changes throughout life, our thoughts come and go like a never ending movie, our feelings constantly rise and fall like the tide.  Whether our experiences are pleasant or not, they come and go leaving only a faint memory similar to last nights dream. 

People often say, 'I cannot believe how fast this month/ year has gone.'  It is quite strange that even though we notice how quickly life passes us by, they do not apply it to their future.  We stand with our mouths agape at how fast the past ten years have went, what about the next ten?  Do you think they are going to slow down?   This life is like a water bubble, clearly apparent for a moment but vanishing in an instant. 

The third implication to consider is the faults of permanence.  We often consider phenomena, whether that of the outer world or the inner world, to possess an identify of their own.  We think that they really truly exist from their own side.  We tend to fixate on notions of self and other, mine and yours, right and wrong.  It is this fixation that then leads to fear, stress, anxiety, anger and attachment.  

When we understand the impermanence of the outer and inner world as well as the faults of permanence, we can come to embrace a larger scope, which is that if everything is impermanent then change is possible.  We often feel stuck- in situations, work, feelings and thoughts.  When we contemplate on impermanence we gain certainty that nothing is fixed, that while things may seem very solid at the time it is really just our mistaken perception.  By loosening our fixation on identity, we come to eliminate the extreme and faults of permanence.  We come to appreciate the larger scope, that reality is dynamic, flexible, a vast web of dependent origination. 

We then come to the decisive experience of impermanence.  By not getting caught up in the dynamic display of the environment or beings, we come to discover the fundamental ground of being, the true nature of reality which is unchanging.  Having never existed as anything whatsoever, it manifests in any way at all.  All that appears and exists within samsara and nirvana is nothing but an ornament of awareness, the unceasing play of dependent origination that is utterly beyond speech, thought or expression.  Life opens itself to an endless dance of creative display.  Our minds, free from fixation, come to appreciate and rejoice in experience rather than being bound by it. 

While there is uncertainty as to the time of death, death is certain so we must realize our true nature now.  For too long we have thought we had so much time, but now the sun is setting and life has run its course.  We have no time left to practice, our body is growing old and weak, our mind frail. 

Life is a passing glance of possibility.  Do we act or not?  Seize the moment!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Precious Human Life

This week a few of my vajra brothers and sisters have begun a year long contemplation on Mind Training, or Lojong in Tibetan.  The benefit of the mind training teachings is that they are very simple and precise. You can read the whole text or a portion of the text and then actually practice it. There is a directness to the teachings that each time you read it, there is something that cuts through misconceptions or internal struggles we are having. These teachings represent the simplicity of the Mahayana tradition.

First, train in the preliminaries.

The first preliminary is the contemplation on this precious human life.  The key point is that we need to take advantage of this precious human life endowed with freedom and opportunity.  

There are several implications to consider regarding this precious human life.  The first is the rarity of obtaining a precious human life.  By some strange chance we have stumbled upon this situation, much like a blind person stumbling upon a treasure.  If we do not use this great opportunity now, when will we have the chance again in the future?  

Take a look at the people around you.  People are extremely busy, many of them over stressed with work, chasing after momentary illusions for entertainment and satisfaction.  Many people in this world have opportunity- the presence of favorable conditions.  More and more people are coming to have freedom- the absence of negative conditions.  But it is extremely rare that a person has both opportunity and freedom.

We can look at our own life to see the rarity of having both opportunity and freedom.  How many times have we had extra time on our hands but we have lacked either the resources or the physical health to actually use that time effectively?  How many times have we had an abundance of resources and energy, but no time to actually meditate or enjoy the simple things in life?  How often have we wasted away days, nights and weekends caught up in worry, anger or scheming; no freedom from negative mental states to actually cultivate positive qualities. 

The second implication is that this life has great purpose.  We have somehow stumbled upon this great treasure, so we must put it to good use or like a fool we will squander it and return empty handed.  

When we understand both the rarity of this precious human life and its great purpose, then we can embrace a larger scope.   The Buddha taught that all beings have buddhanature, the inherent potential to attain awakening.  In the Sutra of the Great Parinirvana:

For example, just as butter permeates milk, likewise buddhanature pervades all beings.

In the Uttaratantra-shastra:

If buddhanature were not present, there would be no remorse over suffering;
There would be no longing for peace, nor striving and devotion towards its aim.  

When we are able to acknowledge our own capacity to achieve awakening, complete and utter enlightenment, it is like a seed taking root in our heart.  As that seed blossoms and grows stronger through the conduct of compassion and loving kindness, it spreads its branches out to shelter beings suffering from the heat of the afflictions.  As it reaches maturation it yields a cool ambrosia fruit that quenches the thirst of beings, establishing them in bliss and contentment. 

Recognizing this innate quality in ourselves, we see the great purpose that this life can accomplish.  It is with this recognition that we generate aspirational bodhicitta, or the aspiration to attain awakening for the sake of all sentient beings.  Just as Shantideva says in the Way of the Bodhisattva:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless, 
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to cross the water, 
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for land, 
A lamp for those who long for light;
For all who need a resting place, a bed;
For those who need a servant, may I be their slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of wealth,
A word of power and supreme healing,
May I be the tree of miracles,
For every being the abundant cow.

Just like the eart and space itself,
And all the mighty elements,
For boundless multitudes of beings
May I always be the ground of life, the source of varied sustenance.

Thus for everything that lives,
As far as the limits of the sky,
May I be constantly their source of livelihood
Until they pass beyond all sorrow.

It is with such an aspiration that we embrace the larger scope of this precious human life.  We cannot afford to waste more time, we must use such a rare opportunity at this very moment.

We then come to the decisive experience of having obtained a precious human life, bodhicitta in action, or traveling the path to awakening.  Again, in the Way of the Bodhisattva:

Today my life has given fruit.
This human state has now been well assumed.
Today I take my birth in Buddha's line,
And have become the Buddha's child and heir.

In every way, then, I will undertake 
Activities befitting such a rank.
And I will do no act to mar
Or compromise this high and faultless lineage.

For I am like a blind man who has found
A precious gem inside a heap of dust.
For so it is, by some strange chance,
That bodhicitta has been born in me.

This is the supreme draft of immortality
That slays the Lord of Death, the slaughterer of beings, 
The rich unfailing treasure mine
To heal the poverty of wanderers.

It is the sovereign remedy
That perfectly allays all maladies.
It is the tree that gives relief
To those who wander wearily the pathways of existence.

It is the universal bridge that saves
All wandering beings from the states of loss,
The rising moon of the enlightened mind
That soothes the sorrows born of the afflictions.

It is the mighty sun that utterly dispels
The misty ignorance of wandering beings,
The creamy butter, rich and full,
That's churned from milk of holy teachings.

Living beings!  Wayfarer's upon life's paths,
Who wish to taste the riches of contentment,
Here before you is the supreme bliss.
Here, O ceaseless travelers, is your fulfillment!

Again and again contemplate the meaning of this precious human life.  We are extremely fortunate, but we cannot remain idle, the days, weeks and months move too fast.  Now is the time to act!


Sunday, June 24, 2012


'Our life is shaped by our mind, we become what we think.'
Siddhartha Gautama

Stand naked.  For a moment today stand naked before the mirror, the mirror of our own mind.  

It is incredibly difficult to stand in the present moment.  It is too simple, too raw, too naked.  We are quick to reach for a towel, flex our muscles, correct our posture, pluck our eyebrows or cover up our blemishes.  It is very difficult to stand tall in our inherent goodness, the basic dignity of being who you are, right now. 

It is not just the embarrassment, shame, guilt or fear of our own bodies; it is also our feelings, our actions and our past.  We don't know how to work with all of that when we stand before it, it is often easier to get dressed and keep moving.  

But this is the battlefield.  This is the meditation.  The present moment is the ground upon which all the work is done and it is simultaneously the result of fulfillment. 

This ever-present moment, if we can learn to face our fears and the darkness that we hide in our hearts, opens up into the eternally youthful present- peaceful, content and free of elaboration. 

It is only by abiding in this timeless state of complete nakedness that we can come to appreciate the wellsprings of the Great Perfection. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Illuminating Darkness

'May I be a lamp for those who long for light.'

Our world often appears to be shrouded in darkness-
the outer world of crime, social and political intolerance, warnings of apocalypse, and other malevolent forces at work; the inner world of our own fear, doubt, resentment and the proximity of our own death.   

We often run from darkness for fear of being engulfed, lost without a way.  When we see the ruins of darkness before us we avert our eyes, afraid that somehow we too might be its next victim.

A very strange thing happens though if we no longer need to hide from darkness.  If we open ourselves up to darkness it is very hard to find, even if we seek out that space of total darkness- a darkness so black we cannot tell if our eyes are open or closed, so dark you can't even see your own hands in front of you.  It is very hard to find total darkness because light always seems to find a way in.  There is always a tiny crack or pinhole which your eyes pick up on, casting rays of light into the space that you can't avoid even if you try to turn away from it. 

As a matter of fact, the darker it is the more sensitive we are to light.  

Light is all-pervading and surprisingly persistent.  It doesn't need to manipulate or prove itself to exert its influence on the world.  It just needs a tiny pinhole, a tiny crack of opportunity to spread its influence, illuminating the darkness.

Be a light for the world.  You don't need power, wealth or even approval.  You just need to be there, wherever you are.