Monday, February 25, 2013

Be the Music

Everybody likes to sing and dance to a good song,
But sometimes none of the channels are playing the right music.
Unplug the radio,
Find your practice.
Be the music. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Spiritual Friend

Editor's note: This is a guest post by Karen Johnstone.

 I've been invited to be a guest writer here today, and the subject:  something that inspires me.  Immediately, Guru Yoga, Devotion to the Spiritual Teacher, the Spiritual Friend came to mind.   

I crossed a benchmark in the past several months, having taken refuge a little over 5 years ago, studying exclusively with my root teacher, Younge Khachab Rinpoche.  He has often exhorted me to direct my attention to Guru Yoga.  Early on, I found myself somewhat befuddled by the terminology - what does this truly mean?  Am I practicing a kind of blind faith, an "idiot" devotion (parallel to another popularized term, "idiot compassion")? Perhaps this has occurred to some degree. 

However, as I've passed the 5 year benchmark, I have discovered an inner confidence that provides a very firm foundation for my practice and anchors my commitments.  I reflect on all that I have learned from my root teacher, and I deeply appreciate the insight and stability that supports me daily.  I recognize a joy and sense of ease that is uncontrived- a radiance that simply occurs.  I've come to recognize this after taking the time to listen, absorb, and contemplate the teachings he has so generously and abundantly shared. 

My meditation practice allows me to examine and relate to the teachings from my own personal experience.  I am deeply and sincerely moved by the profound generosity of my root teacher, and of course his discipline, patience, diligence, meditative concentration that is so deeply instructive, and wisdom.  Guru Yoga for me has evolved into something very natural, empowering and nurturing.  I understand just how illuminating this relationship has become and its far reaching benefits. 

Alexander Berzin defines a Spiritual Friend:

A Spiritual Friend is a friend to help us be more constructive.  It doesn’t mean somebody that we go drinking with and go to the movies with, but someone who we really have a heart to heart close connection with. The whole purpose of the relationship is to help us to be more and more constructive, more and more positive, to gain more and more good qualities.

That is unquestionably my experience.  My practice and my path are rooted in the very practical and grounded advice of my root teacher, the very genuine and reciprocal respect we share, and the deep self respect he has inculcated in me.  From that deep respect, I move with a greater sense of responsibility, devotion and attention to my practice, which is so very constructive and grounded.

I had the pleasure of spending this past week on the island of Hawaii, at Wood Valley Temple, for an empowerment, teachings, fire puja and celebration of Losar, presented and led by a visiting teacher from Seattle, Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche.  I have been acquainted with him since 2008 (a few months after establishing my relationship with my root teacher). Recently I read his autobiography, a remarkable story, and I welcomed the opportunity to deepen my acquaintance with him.  I also had the pleasure of socializing with the Hawaii sangha.   Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche also spoke about Guru Yoga, explaining that it is not merely the physical actions done as part of preliminary practices.  I already had a deep appreciation for Younge Khachab Rinpoche and in the weekend's activities I recognized how much I have learned, and the ease and confidence I now enjoy with what I have learned and experienced so far. 

I came to recognize that Guru Yoga is not something merely done.  It is a way of being; of receptivity, of inspiration and integrity. 

Time spent listening to Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche and interacting with the Hawaii sangha- being open, receptive, sharing, and responsive gave me quite an exuberant feeling.  I found myself quite conscious of devotion to the Spiritual Teacher in conversations as each of us came from unique backgrounds. We quickly came together with a sense of warmth, generosity and kindness that was reflective of the devotion each of us have to our respective root teachers and subsequent teachers.  While I felt very exuberant in my devotion to my teachers, I also felt more firmly rooted in my dharma practice; even more deeply at home.  I was inspired and focused on the transformative power of the teachings from my own root teacher and Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche, as shown in my ease and comfort with people I did not know previously; I departed with many new friends.  I was inspired by the firm confidence, devotion and responsibility to the teachings I have been so fortunate to receive, to live them as fully as I can, and in the profound kindness and generosity of the teachers with whom I share very dear connections.

This sense of connection to my teachers and their lineage was punctuated later in the week when I went to Paleaku Garden, a botanical garden that includes a Stupa dedicated by Bokar Rinpoche, one of the great teachers for Younge Khachab Rinpoche, and a Green Tara shrine inspired by Her Eminence, Jamyang Dagmola Rinpoche, who has been like a second mother for Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche.  Being mindful of very real and dear lineages was deeply inspiring to me, deepening my sense of inspiring presence, devotion, and the beautiful guidance and power of Guru Yoga.

It is from this inspiring presence, devotion and joyful confidence that I can be available for others.  Realizing that is profoundly empowering.

Karen Johnstone is an estate planning paralegal, energy clearing consultant, bad ass mother; and long time student of Younge Khachab Rinpoche.  She is a leader and coordinator for the YDL- Washington Sangha.  She can be contacted at

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Travel with Purpose

We all seek to live a life of purpose.  You can be certain that we have a precious human life endowed with freedoms and opportunity, but how we use that life determines the degree to which we feel we fulfill our purpose. 

The Buddha described three types of traveler's on the path based on the scope of their practice.  Atisha in his Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment describes this threefold designation:

Know to be 'least' those persons
Who diligently strive to attain
Solely the joys of conditioned existence
By any means for their welfare alone.

* * * * *

Those persons are called 'medium' 
Who stop sinful actions, 
Turn their backs on the joys of conditioned existence
And diligently strive for their own peace.

* * * * *

Those person are called 'superior'
Who sincerely wish to extinguish
All the suffering of others
By understanding their own suffering.

Those traveler's of lesser scope work towards the benefit of this life and a higher rebirth, whether it be in the heavens or in this life in the form of promotions, power and fame.  Those traveler's of lesser scope are enshrouded in their identity and the eight worldly concerns.  We can see this all around us in the form of self-help guides, self-development programs, habits for success, fitness goals and competitions.  All of these activities are undertaken with the intention that they will bring about one's own welfare, that they will yield positive results and that your life will be happier, healthier, and more fun.

And in general it is true.

If you have healthier habits, you will be healthier.  You can definitely 'work your way up' through the levels of conditioned existence.  Surely we can say that we are able to use our freedoms and opportunities more in America than in many third world countries that are under authoritarian rule and wherever you happen to be born in the social hierarchy determines your fate.  Many Americans may not say they believe in karma, but they do live their lives with a full understanding of how cause and effect can bring about better states of existence.    

But we also never escape the cycle of distress and suffering that follow such an existence.  There is no escape from discontentment.  There is no refuge in samsara.  The higher levels of this world do not yield the desired result of inner wealth- peace, contentment, joy and love. 

We have the tendency to think that if we can improve our environment, body or external conditions then we will experience our desired result.  But all of these occur within the confines of our mind, a mind that is wrapped in identity, grasping, karma and negative mental states.  We cannot buy, bargain or work our way out of our mind.  It is only the wisdom that understands the true nature that can break through the confines of dualistic mind.

There are a couple of landmarks to be mindful of when you are traveling with lesser scope. 
The first is that all of these pleasures and joys that we experience are ephemeral and fleeting.  They are all impermanent
The second is the all-pervasive nature of suffering within conditioned existence.  When you begin to notice these two landmarks, you are on the verge of giving rise to the middle scope of practice. 

Those of medium scope seek liberation from the cycle of conditioned existence.  To put an end to suffering once and for all.  They rely on the Four Noble Truths and the teachings on Dependent Origination to come to an understanding of their own suffering and the most expedient means to eliminate it.  The goal is the complete cessation of suffering and distress.  It is the personal salvation of an Arhat.  This cessation of suffering is not to be confused with Buddhahood, but it is the state of nirvana or everlasting peace. 

There are also landmarks to be mindful of when you are traveling with medium scope. 
The first is a sense of hollowness.  Even though you can attain a great degree of inner peace and tranquility, there is an element of grace and fullness that is missing. 
The second is naturally arising love, compassion and kindness for others.  When you begin to notice these two landmarks, you are definitely on the verge of giving rise to the practice of great scope

The practice of great scope is that which seeks to liberate all beings from the discontentment and suffering of samsara.  It is a path that enacts the Four Immeasurables and Six Perfections, seeking to perfectly accumulate merit and wisdom that fulfills the aims of oneself and others.  This is the path traveled by all Buddhas and bodhisattvas.  A bodhisattva is a practitioner of great scope that chooses to intentionally take birth within the round of samsara until all worlds are emptied, from the darkest of hells to the highest of heavens.  Bodhisattvas rest with ease despite the adventitious suffering of conditioned existence.  They constantly rest in openness and honesty, not needing to project their identity or justify themselves.  They are the artisans of generosity, love and kindness.  You probably will not recognize them as they spread their art but you can witness how the shape of their life brings countless benefit to everyone around them.  

It is often said that those who give rise to the path of great scope are as rare as stars seen during the daytime.  This is true and indeed they are a precious jewel for the world.  But I think we can all see aspects of ourselves in each of these paths. 

Which path are you traveling on?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Generosity Day

This is a big week for Generosity.  Generosity Day is being rebooted on February 14th and February 17th is a National Day for Random Acts of Kindness. 

Generosity Day is the work of Sasha Dichter, his intention is to broaden the tradition of Valentine's Day into a celebration of love and generosity. 

Random Acts of Kindness Day is an unofficial holiday to celebrate kindness and generosity. 

There is no better time to go spread your art.  If you need a few ideas, here is a list to use this week or for each week of the year. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Confession is a very important practice while you are traveling the path.  It forms one of the branches within the Seven Branch Prayer that is part of the accumulation of merit or positive potential that keeps us moving forward on the path. 

Confession within the context of the Buddha's teachings is not the same as asking for forgiveness.  From a Buddhist perspective the act of confession is an acknowledgement and a claiming of responsibility for our own wrong doing.  Their is no concept of sin within the Buddhist tradition, only the inevitable principle of cause and effect, or karma

Confession itself is a kind of awakening.  Before, amidst all of our confusion and ignorance we were completely unaware of the harm we were bringing to ourselves and others.  Through the act of confession we can see our own errors and how we brought our self to this state of despair.  It brings us back in control of our mind and reality.  

The Buddha taught that we are not victims of reality or conspiracy, but rather that we are victims of our own confusion.  The act of confession separates us from our confused mind, isolating for the first time our true tormentor. 

It is the guise of thinking that we are perfect and without mistake that binds us to ceaseless torment and strife.  When we remove the mask and reveal our true face, then we have something.  We have a place to start.  If we are willing to press on, move forward, then all of our guilt and self-hatred falls away because it is not who we are but what we were holding onto.  

Now we can forge the path anew.  Sure we will have many missteps along the way but we are climbing out of the abyss.  By relying on this method of confession we can ensure that our confusion will not persist, that the light of wisdom will always shine through the darkness of our confusion.  

There are four powers to rely on in the act of confession:
1. Regretting our negative actions, obscurations and habitual tendencies
2. Relying on the positive support of authentic Dharma
3. Engaging in positive actions and behaviors that act as an antidote
4. The resolve to not commit those actions in the future

By relying on these four powers you really can let go of that burden you have been carrying around.  When you combine these techniques with the other branches of the Seven Branch Prayer then you have a very powerful method of training.