Monday, December 31, 2018

Siddhearta's Essence of 2018.

Despite the incredible challenge of our times, I have felt incredibly fortunate and blessed this year. The kindness and support all of you have given me is hard to put into words. A simple thank you does not due justice, and yet gratitude is what my heart feels.

I wish you all a wonderful new year, a year of health and a peaceful mind! May you focus on your practice, find the time and space needed to share generously, and may you fulfill your own aims and the aims of others. Thank you for your kindness and support!

Here's an old poem for the road ahead:

I sit, stand and walk,
catching fleeting reminders
of where we have been
and where we want to go.
Moments of clarity and insight,
of fear and anger and exaltation, 
strewn across a lifetime of moments,
captured in bottles left to drift at sea.

May you stumble upon what you need,
a worn wood inscription,
a chance encounter,
a guidepost on your journey,
a cairn on a forgotten path,
a note in a book you've always had.

Wherever you are,
this battle is not your own.
Those paths you walk,
those lonely and precarious paths,
you are not alone. 
We are out there,
we are all over,
and we walk with you.

Here's some of the top posts of 2018, in no particular order:

An important life lesson.
"Adversity reveals genius."
Working with darkness.
Embarking on the path of meditation.
Letter to a young practitioner.
Letter to a friend (The Renaissance Letter)
You are the work.
Dukkha is more than suffering.
Right livelihood.
Don't worry about the result.
Shantideva on How to Live a Good Life.
Reclaiming liberty.
Mechanics of karma.
Setting the angel free.
Culture of awakening.
Compassion, redefined.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Recommended books and podcasts from 2018.

2018 featured a couple really impactful books and podcast episodes. Here are a several of my favorites, I hope you enjoy them.

Living Myth: Gifts and Wounds
On the wounds that we carry and how our deepest wounds reveal our greatest gifts.

On Being: Poetry from the On Being Gathering- David Whyte
An inspiring invitation to be more present in the world and to build connections that support that calling.

Tim Ferriss: Dr. Gabor Mate- New Paradigms, Ayahuasca, and Redefining Addiction
A raw look at trauma and how we heal.

Good Life Project: Brene Brown: Vulnerable, Brave and Awake [Best of]
A great conversation about being vulnerable and awake in the world.

Akimbo: On dignity
A look at how dignity and empathy allow us to do work that matters and shift the culture.


The Genius Myth by Michael Meade
A timely and relevant call to being more present in the world and how to reveal our innate genius.

After Buddhism by Stephen Batchelor
This book features a fascinating study of the Buddha's teachings and how this ancient tradition remain relevant in a secular world.

Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
A summary of the research around mind and meditation and the importance of lifelong practice.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
Another wonderful biography by Walter Isaacson. It is fascinating to see Leonardo's work evolve over time and to see what was influencing his work.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Refuge as a doorway.

Life is full of thresholds that forever change who we are and how we live our life. A doorway is one of the most common symbols of a threshold, for we move from a place in which we are familiar into a place that is unknown to us and beyond our sight. One side of the door is the past and where we have come from, on the other side is the future and what is yet to come. On one side we leave behind the familiar, to discover something else as the mystery unfolds.

Each of us is called to be more deeply present in the world, to participate and contribute to the world around us in some way. That call may come from a random encounter, a problem we are facing, an accident or even a dream. We most notice that call when we are hesitating to step out beyond our comfort zone, second guessing ourselves, or holding back from fear or uncertainty.

That call creates a threshold. It presents a small gap in which we are given an opportunity to be more open, responsive and available. That chance encounter isn't a chance at all, because it is how you are to use your life as the journey of self-discovery.

If we recognize that call, but choose to hold back or give in, then we fall back into our habitual ways and over invest in things outside ourselves, beyond our control.

Answering that call means crossing the threshold and finding ourselves on a sacred journey or pilgrimage to rediscover our own buddha heart. The challenges of the path continually present themselves and we slowly learn to set aside our own fixation and confusion so that we can awaken to our genuine way of being.

This threshold that we are talking about, between presence or giving in to the resistance, is traditionally presented as refuge. Before the doorway of refuge we reified who we are and believed in powers outside of ourselves for our freedom and liberation. Beyond the doorway is a world in which we recognize our innate potential and rely on our own experience and wisdom as the path. On that journey of self-discovery and revelation of our own buddha heart, we will find that we need to rely on teachers who have traveled this path, teachings that we can rely on, and supportive companions who understand the journey that we are on.

Refuge isn't a one-time event. Again and again we are called to cross that threshold, to leave behind our narrow conception of self and strive for awakening. Again and again, we rely on the Dharma to guide us on that journey.

Refuge is the doorway to awakening and marks a significant shift on your journey of self-discovery.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Practice first.


1. Practice.

The top of your to-do list should always be practice. This doesn't mean that it needs to be the first thing that you do each day, but that it is your main priority.

Practice isn't just your seated practice. The practice that we are talking about involves meditation and post-meditation, or your formal sitting practice and then the rest of your daily life.

Meditation is the obvious part. Pick a time of the day to sit and meditate. Rest in the natural state. Recognize the nature of your own mind and rest in a pure, open presence.

The difficult part is carrying that openness and presence into your daily life in the post-meditation session. How do you work with problems and difficulties that are coming up in your day? How do you engage with other people? What do you do when you find yourself caught up in projection or tuning out? How do you work with hesitation, doubt and fear? How do you act when you see an opportunity to be generous and kind?

Every part of your day is calling you to be more deeply present in the world that you occupy. You can always find ways to be patient, kind and understanding in your daily life- which is why practice is always your first priority.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The work of a bodhisattva.

The bodhisattva ideal is often compared to a warrior. We live in a time in which it takes great courage and determination to be more present in the world. Our culture is encouraging us all to fit in and comply, lulling us back to sleep with entertainment and distraction. Trying to wake up in that world is no easy task, and yet it presents an opportunity worth fighting for.

We cannot truly be deeply present in the world or contribute in meaningful ways until we can get past our own hesitation, fear and uncertainty. Our narrow conception of who we are and what we are capable of limits our experience of the world and what we have to give.

Doing the inner work of uncovering our natural buddha heart requires a lifelong journey of self-discovery. Our most meaningful work is to awaken in such a way that the gifts we have to share are seen as irreplaceable. That is work worth investing in and showing up for. That is work that we can spend our entire life doing, and work that will genuinely make a difference in creating a better world.

To be successful in our work does not require accomplishing some outer goal. Rather, it is to reconnect with our own nature in such a way that we reveal own our buddha heart and have the courage to bring it out into the world for the benefit of others.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


We need you to occupy the world that you are in.

We need you to figure out how to be present in that world. We need you to do the inner work necessary so that you can participate in that world with kindness, compassion and generosity. We need you to learn how to use resistance, hesitation and fear as a call to be deeply present in a world of chaos.

That world doesn't need to be big. It doesn't need to be the whole world. Matter of fact, it shouldn't be the whole world and it can't be the whole world. It is best to start small, the smaller the better.

Occupy your home with presence and contribute generously to the well-being and happiness of your family or friends. If your home is too big of a space and there is too much going on, choose one relationship to occupy with full presence and kindness, maybe with a teacher or partner. If that is too big of a space, choose to occupy yourself with presence and kindness. Learn to sit on your own meditation seat with honesty, kindness and openness. Learn to be understanding and receptive to your own suffering and discontentment.

When you learn to occupy your smallest world with compassion, kindness and generosity, gradually that world will start to expand and widen. You'll step into a larger world having already established a ground of presence. Gradually, walls will fall, doors will open and your vision will expand.

This applies to your relationships and your work. When you learn to be open and honest with yourself, you can be understanding and receptive to others. When we can be fully present and engaged with our friends and family, we can carry that presence into our communities when dealing with strangers. Gradually, we can learn to work with difficult situations and people who are creating problems for us along the way.

If you cannot handle your present environment, assuming a larger space will not make things easier or better. When you can learn to fully occupy your present space, your world will naturally widen and you will see where you can contribute to that larger world.

It all starts with presence. Learn to occupy the smallest space with presence and generosity. That probably means starting with your meditation cushion. As your practice deepens and you gain confidence, you will naturally be more present and be able to participate fully in the world at large.

Monday, December 17, 2018

"You can be anything you want to be."

I call bullshit.

This idea that you can be anything or do anything descends from our social theory of individualism and the American Dream. Basically, if you work hard enough or want it bad enough, you can have or be anything. Many parts of this social theory hold to be true in our experience. If you work hard, you can accomplish many of your hopes and dreams. And of course, life may get in the way and you may not.

The fundamental belief of this theory is that where you are is not where you ought to be, or where you want to be or need to be. At this moment in time, you recognize the value and worth of your future self and your future contributions, without seeing the value and worth of your present self and contributions. This idea is further conflated with ideas of gaining wealth, power and prestige. When we can "become the person we want to be," we will have the most to give and live our most meaningful life.

Of course, this day rarely comes.

Our idea of who we are going to be is just a projection. Undoubtedly, it creates a picture of where we want to go, and this picture shapes our actions and choices. We move closer to the projection, but the projection itself always shifts and changes. The result is that we are exhausted and after all this work, we feel unfulfilled.

The alternative is to wake up in the world in which you are currently living. You choose to embody the person that you are, in the world as it is. When we can embody this genuine presence, we discover that right now we have the resourcefulness and initiative necessary to meaningfully contribute to the world around us. We begin to engage and participate with the problems and tension of our present day.

Through our presence and contribution, we discover that we continually shape and create the world, that the world around us is not "some thing" that we simply experience as a bystander, but that it is continually unfolding and undergoing creation and destruction.

Our world doesn't need more people who are going to be the best versions of themselves in ten or twenty years. We need you now. We need you to be the beacon of light in the space in which you are living.

The work that we need is not the outer work of doing, but the inner work of being.

Friday, December 14, 2018

What have you consciously sacrificed along the way?

The path of a householder upholding a practice tradition is precarious. We are immersed in the world, while also immersed in our practice. We are working, raising a family, building relationships, taking care of our parents, while we are also committed to resolving our own hesitation, resistance and struggle.

Along this precarious path, we will need to rely on teachers and companions, insight and patience, as we slowly make our way. As we deepen our practice, we will need to make conscious sacrifices, or else risk things in our life being unnecessarily sacrificed.

One of the common struggles of a householder is carrying the practice into the workplace. There is a common error to perceive the work environment as not suitable for practice, that you must seek out a better job, or a more suitable career that supports your practice. You may switch jobs, switch industries, switch titles. I can assure you all this effort is hopeless. You will not find the perfect career or company for your practice. Undoubtedly, your practice would most benefit from you overcoming your own resistance and fear so that you could be more present, generous and kind at your current job. Right livelihood is to be found by contributing in meaningful ways, not by finding the perfect workplace.

What you might have to sacrifice or give up is the idea that your title is a marker of your work. You might have to give up acting like everyone else, or engaging in the culture of power and status. You might have to consciously decide to not play that game, but you don't have to. You just need to identify what it is that you are sacrificing along your journey. What are you consciously or unconsciously sacrificing?

Another challenge is often how to carry the practice while raising a family or taking care of elderly parents. You could choose to dedicate every evening to an hour of meditation and forego some family time, or you could miss an hour of sleep and meditate in the morning before everyone gets up. Or you could sleep in and enjoy a nice evening with your family, and not meditate at all.

The key point is that something is always going to be sacrificed. We can either choose to make conscious sacrifices based on our values and commitments, or we can make unconscious sacrifices and risk missing out on opportunities and fleeting moments that are often important.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

An important life lesson.

The question of where to start is ever more challenging today. We live in a world where climate change is out of control, where we face tremendous ideological divides, and our society is plagued by anxiety, despair and addiction. None of the problems that we face are easy. None of them have a clear starting point.

There is an important lesson that we are trying to learn in life. It is a hard fought lesson and one that we should teach our children as they move out into the world:

The world is more free when we are free in it. 

As we transform ourselves, we transform the world. As we learn to resolve our own limiting fear, uncertainty and doubt, we learn to participate and contribute to the well being of the community around us. As we learn to work with our own tight knots of attachment, aversion and ignorance, we also learn how to be more present, understanding and kind in the world. 

The individual and collective are inseparable. We are the culture. Know that each of us has this capacity to wake up to a deeper sense of self and that doing so benefits not only ourselves, but the whole world. Knowing this shifts our posture. It changes who we are and how we move through the world. It shapes our values and our choices. 

In times like these when all seems lost, perhaps the greatest gift we can share with the world is to be more true to who we are and our unique way of seeing the world. There is so much to be done to solve the problems of our times. The solution that we need isn't going to come from rushing headlong into the wasteland and hoping for the best. The solution starts by being committed to the inner work of freeing our own heart and mind. 

Freeing ourselves from our own inner constraints, we are more freely available to share the naturally present abundance that is the ground of our being.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The opposite of awareness.

Tibetan: ma-rigpa
English: ignorance, confusion, unaware, diminished presence, absent-presence (like you are here, but not really)

Dzogchen takes awareness (Tib: rigpa) as the path and that awareness takes the form of pure presence. It is a way of being in which we are open, receptive and dynamic. An excellent metaphor for this presence of awareness is dancing, in which we are responsive and in union with the arising of experience around us.

It can often be difficult to recognize that awareness since it is utterly beyond description and is groundless in nature. There is nothing to hold onto, and so we can never be quite too sure that we got it, or get it. Doubt can creep into our minds about if we are "doing it right."

We can be sure that if we are trying to do it right, or struggling to embody what we think of as 'presence', then we are still a bit mistaken and haven't quite grasped the key point. We cannot contrive or fabricate a state of presence.

It is often much easier to recognize when we aren't embodying open presence. The state of unawareness (Tib. ma-rigpa) is where we usually live out the course of our lives. The state of confusion about who we are and the nature of the world around us. This usual sense of diminished awareness, or stupor, or malaise that we carry through our days. I often find myself reaching for another cup of coffee to "turn up the lights" of my dullness and malaise.

We can easily recognize this state of diminished awareness. It is the struggle to break out, to break free, to move beyond ourselves and the imposed limits of our narrow mind. Do you ever get that feeling that you need to get out of your own way, but this heaviness inside keeps holding you back? Like you just can't muster up enough gumption to actually be present and responsive. I do.

Recognize these moments of malaise, hesitation and doubt. Recognize the holding back and the holding on to whatever is coming up in your experience. Recognize them for what they are- the state of confusion in which our presence in the world is diminished. We cannot be fully present when we continually give in to this inner struggle that is playing out in our hearts and minds.

When we recognize these moments, we need to follow the meditation instructions:

"Let go. Let it be as it is."

There is a gap that opens up. A gap between the moment of confusion and the awareness that recognized that confusion. In that gap is the state of pure open presence. Recognize the nature of your own awareness in that gap. Recognize the state of uncontrived, pure presence free from the confines of mind or mental states. It is in that moment that we can recognize the buddha within, our own buddhanature or buddha heart. 

It is in that moment that we abide in the world in a deeper way, and can discover the resources and utility to participate and contribute meaningfully to the world around us. It is in that moment that we discover that we have enough and that we are sufficient just as we are. In that moment, there is nothing to be added or taken away, nothing to accomplish and nothing to overcome, and so it is called the natural great perfection, Dzogchen.

Of course,

the story does not stop there.
The world keeps turning, and we must keep dancing.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Upcoming Meditation Workshop

You are invited to the following event:  

Event to be held at the following time, date, and location:
Sunday, December 9, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM (PST)
Wise Orchid Taijiquan & Qigong
2002 East Union Street
Seattle, WA 98122

View Map
Join us for a weekend workshop on the foundations of the Dzogchen view and meditation. Dzogchen, or the Great Perfection, is the heart essence of all of the Buddha's teachings. These teachings reveal our own innate buddhanature in a simple but direct way.
  • Be introduced to the unique Dzogchen view
  • Learn how to recognize and rest in the nature of mind
  • Learn how the practice of resting unfolds to reveal awareness
  • Understand how we stray in the practice and how to eliminate errors in our meditation
See you on the cushion!


Friday, December 7, 2018

The wasteland.

Charnel grounds are a recurring theme and symbol that appear in many of the stories of meditation masters and great teachers of the past. It is said that great masters like Garab Dorje, Shri Singha and Padmasambhava all spent many years in charnel grounds after the nature of their own mind was revealed to them.

The charnel ground represents the wasteland that is the final result of this human life. The presence of death and loss cannot be overlooked or hidden. No matter how beautiful or meaningful the work that we have done in this life, no matter how much we have cherished our loved ones, all of us must go through this devastation and loss. The charnel ground also directly challenges this notion of the ego, the importance that we place on who we are and what we do.

The best solution to being in the charnel ground seems to be to get out of it. We want to get away and hide the whole thing. If we don't look at it and don't get too close, maybe it's not going to be there to torment us. Yet the actual solution comes from living fully in the charnel ground and using the resourcefulness of our own practice to dance with whatever is coming up in our experience.

You can be sure that when you feel like everything is falling apart and your world is turning into a charnel ground, you are being called to a deeper presence in the world.

Recognize that moment. Rediscover the ground of your renewal and resilience. That is the essential if you are to learn how to find complete resolution while living in the charnel ground. When you learn to skillfully work with the intense appearances of the charnel ground, you will find that it has become a pure land in which you can manifest your activity and accomplish your aims. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Many of us feel stuck in our life or in our situation. Day after day we travel on well-worn tracks of habitual routines. Changing directions or charting a new course seems like a remote possibility.

Most of our days we are simply going through the motions, moving from one task to the next. We have to get from point A to point B and we hustle to get there on time. Along the way we are bombarded with news and information, consuming a never ending stream of entertainment. The effort to remain present and aware can be daunting, as our minds are habituated to following after the shiniest and most colorful objects.

When those very same wandering and distracted hearts and minds catch a moment of presence, a world of possibility opens up. Our world opens up to wonder and awe, and we enjoy a greater sense of well-being. In those moments, we may realize that we don't need to recreate our life anew, but that we can meaningfully participate in and create this very life as it continues to unfold before us.

The challenge then, is how to we catch those moments of presence? What signs or indications can we rely on?

Notice when you are feeling stuck. Notice when you are hiding, or scared, or hesitating. Notice when you are anxious or stressed. Those are the signs to look for on the road. When you see the signs, look for the Buddha within.

"Go to the places that scare you. 
In haunted places, seek the Buddha within yourself."
Padampa Sangye's advice to Machig Labdron

Monday, December 3, 2018

"Adversity reveals genius."

Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.

The question is not whether you have this potential. The question is whether or not at this moment, at this time and in this place, you will do the emotionally heavy labor of being present, understanding and generous. 

Each of us participates and contributes to the world around us in some way. We can choose how we want to contribute. We can choose to be patient, kind and generous.  We can choose empathy and compassion over anger and disrespect. 

Following through on that choice is not always easy.

When we come face to face with adversity- the resistance of shutting down, tuning out, hesitating- we have an opportunity to recognize that moment and rely on the crucial instructions of the practice.

The genius that is revealed is not related to our innate abilities or talents. It is not the result of our actions or work. This genius refers to a deeper presence in the world. It is a way of being in the world and contributing to the world.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Answering the call.

There is something inside of each of us that is calling for us to be more deeply present in the world, to participate and contribute to the world in some way. Answering that call opens the doorway to the path.

When we feel called to step beyond our narrow conception of self and our abilities, we usually experience vulnerability, hesitation and fear. We feel called to step out into the open, but when the time comes to do so we hold back, we wait, we turn back.

That is why we need a practice, a teacher and mentor, a supportive community. We need stories and examples of those who have traveled this path. We need support and feedback and guidance from those who are currently traveling.

On this journey, we often feel alone and isolated. But there are those who walk with us, among us. There are those waiting for us just ahead and around the corner.

By showing up and listening to our own calling, we show up for others and continue to inspire them in their own path. Answering the call fulfills our own aims and brings about the aims of others.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Instructions for practice.

All of the Buddha’s teachings can be understood as instructions for practice. As practitioners, it is our work that reveals the truth of the teachings. Put them to the test, contemplate them, digest them, resolve your uncertainty and doubt, follow your curiosity.

We all have an opportunity to be more present in the world, to contribute from a place of abundance and to bring about tremendous benefit and change. To actually do that isn’t easy, so we must follow a path and commit to a life of practice.

Step by step, we learn to work with the hesitation and fear, we learn to open up, to be more vulnerable and understanding, and to recognize the gifts that we can share with the world- gifts of kindness, generosity and compassion.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The deception of self-help.

The self-help genre is exploding in popular culture. Everything from how to be more fit, more mindful, how find your purpose and how to live the life you were meant to live.

The stories are compelling.

The deception that much of the self-help genre relies upon is that your life, right now, is not good enough. You can do better. You must do better to be the person that you want to be. Pick yourself up. Get motivated. Work!

There is a subtle poverty mentality going on, a failure to recognize your innate qualities and potential. Often we find the Buddha's teachings lumped into this self-help category, a sort of new age twist to an ancient tradition.

Here is the key distinction- the self-help genre wants you to get out of your current situation in search of a better situation. The Buddha's teachings want you to be fully present in your current situation. See how subtle that is? One wants you to start running and keep running, the other wants you to sit and be present with the world as it is.

Both methods create dramatic change. The difference is that one keeps you on a cycle in which you never reach your fulfillment, and the other starts with finding your fulfillment and then teaching you how to move from that ground with intention.

The Buddha's teachings become applicable to any life, any situation, any profession. Right now, just as it is.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A true renaissance.

A renaissance is a time for renewal and rebirth. It is the kindling of an emergent potential.

If there is to be a true renaissance in our modern world, it must include everyone. The innate potential and value of all people will have to be recognized and called upon. The notion that we all have something to contribute and that we all have the capability of doing so will have to become known.

The grounds for this rediscovery lies in each of us. It appears to be missing, but it is always lying dormant just beyond the fray of our busy and distracted lives. It becomes readily apparent when we can learn to still the mind and embody genuine presence.

Genuine presence is the ground in which we can mine for gifts worth sharing. Each of us, in our own way, has something to contribute to the world. We can each share from a place of kindness and abundance. We can move through the world with unconditional compassion.

A true renaissance unfolds with the embodying of genuine presence in our lives. It is the subtle shift in our posture that has the potential to shape the world and to shift the culture.

This doesn't require that everyone is always fully present, that is not possible. But it does require that we fight to remain present, when it is often much easier to tune out, turn away and shut down. The commitment to being present is the work that must be done. That is the work worth talking about.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Living truly.

Most of us wander in and out of states of despair, trying to discover who we are and our place in the world. We search for meaning and purpose, we yearn for a sense of connection and we hope for a day when we will figure it all out.

To live fully, we must awaken to who we are in an authentic way. We must learn to recognize and live with genuine presence.

The issue isn't that we have lost our sense of purpose in the world. The issue is that we have forgotten the connection between our presence and the world around us. When we have lost our center, no amount of work and effort will rebuild that connection. When we are grounded in that center, everything that we do moves from a place of presence and intention.

Presence is the missing link. When we learn to embody genuine presence, we learn what it means to live truly.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Being present is greater than being wise.

A genuine mentor knows that being authentically present is more important than appearing to be wise or all knowing. A mentor truly understands, listens, and pays witness to her student and their challenges.

The mentor is naturally incline to teach, but they are equally inclined to wait, guide and nurture. The greatest gift a mentor can give is to uncover and reveal the naturally present genius within. Helping the student to recognize and awaken that presence fulfills an ancient exchange between mentor and student to reclaim the nobility of what it means to be human.

Mentoring bridges a gap between the elders and those newly set out on the path. It is a timeless conversation that involves learning how to be present in the world and discovering how our communities are meant to grow and flourish. These relationships become the glue that hold communities together, the ground for their renewal, and the foundation for finding meaning and purpose for young and experienced alike.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Wisdom lies just beyond the reach of fixation.

One of the fascinating aspects of understanding the Buddha's presentation of the mind is that confusion and wisdom are so closely connected, and often what separates us from experiencing one or the other is but a subtle shift in perspective. The Buddha taught that the primary negative emotions that we experience, called the five poisons, are all experienced as wisdom when we are free from grasping and fixation, otherwise called the five wisdoms.

Take jealousy for example. All of us experience jealousy, or the feeling that what we do isn't good enough or that others are somehow more talented or have better opportunities that we have. When we no longer fixate on our own inadequacy or ability, we can open ourselves up to experience the wisdom of innate fulfillment.

Arrogance is another common negative emotion. Arrogance holds tightly to our position, our view, our ideas or beliefs. Arrogance doesn't listen to what others have to say. When we relinquish these self-focused perspectives, we can give rise to the wisdom of equality, that all beings are equal and that all phenomena are equal in their nature.

Anger is experienced as a being averse to what is happening. When things aren't going our way, aren't meeting our expectations or are turning our the way we intended, we get angry. Anger is an attempt to maintain control or maintain power over a situation. When we let go of fixation, we can experience what is called mirror-like wisdom, where we respond and reflect what is happening. There is no distortion in a mirror, whatever you place in front of it is what it reflects back.

Desire or craving is a fixation on the particular qualities of characteristics of an object. We may be attached to a certain type of fashion, or brand, or person. The craving mind imputes so many characteristics onto the object that we cannot discern what is real from what is projected. When we are free from fixation, we experience the wisdom of discernment, which allows us to appreciate and acknowledge diverse qualities and characteristics but without the attendant forces of craving distorting our vision.

Lastly we come to confusion or ignorance. Ignorance fundamentally misconceives of who we are and the nature of the world around us. We think we are stuck as we are. We think the world around us is never going to improve. Everything seems rather inflexible and concrete. We we can break free from this type of fixation, we can experience with wisdom of the true nature, where we realize that everything is connected and interwoven.

We experience the five poisons regularly throughout our day. Wisdom lies just beyond, and the only thing holding us back is our own grasping and fixation. The Buddha's second noble truth is to let go of the origin, meaning to let go of these five poisons so that we can actualize and realize the state of cessation, our own true nature.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We are always off course.

Ask any sailor worth his salt and he will tell you that the direction that we are going is never the direction that we seek to go. You must always correct and adjust the course to make it to your chosen destination. With the vehicle that you have chosen, there is no direct course from here to there.

In the same way, our practice does not have a true alignment. There isn't one right way. The practice moves through you as you navigate your life. You must correct and make adjustments, that is the practice.

Know the direction that you seek to go. Know that the journey is long and follows many wayward paths. Also know that the quickest route is right into the headwind.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Shared values.

It is difficult and challenging to navigate our world today. Our country is divided, our communities are plagued by inequality and addiction, and even in our own families we may find it difficult to find common ground.

Where do we start to rebuild trust and respect?

We all share core values, values like honesty, integrity, generosity and compassion. As a culture, we value hard work, persistence, and dedication to a cause. Our religious traditions ask us to love our neighbor, help those less fortunate and be of service to others.

These are all points of contact that we share. While we may disagree on many issues, we can agree that values in our life and in our world are important. Start the conversation around shared values, and then listen to each other. Conversations may reveal how much we have in common, and maybe even break down the great divide that seems to keep us apart.

Imagine if we could even take this small step within our own family. If we could each unite the great divide within our family, maybe our communities could start to shift and change as well.

Talk to family and friends. What values do you share and why are they important to you?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Easier to carry the familiar.

Form is much easier to carry.

Many of us, most of us perhaps, find that our situation is not quite what we would hope it to be. Maybe we have a few pounds to lose, or maybe our relationships are not quite as good as we would like them. Maybe we could get a better job, or a nicer house in a better neighborhood.

But we already know all of this. We think about it every day, or whenever it's a slow weekend, or maybe whenever we get a chance to get out of the city. We think about what our life could be.

But it isn't what it could be, it is what it is.

There is a gap between the life we imagine and the life that we are living. In that gap lies uncertainty.

Uncertainty is formless. It is by nature unknown. The unknown is rather scary, certainly much scarier than our current situation however miserable it might be.

You see, our current situation has a form that we recognize. We know it and even if we don't like it, we develop various ways to cope and more often than not to dream.

But uncertainty has no form. We don't know how to carry it. We don't know how to leverage the possibility or to leap into the darkness. Surely we must land somewhere, for we must all be somewhere right? But alas, it is perhaps more in our nature to grit our teeth and keep on working harder. We are good at working harder.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Working with darkness.

What if your ordinary life were to become extraordinary?

What if it were possible to live your everyday life, just as it is, such that it displays great purpose and meaning. It is possible? Could you do it?

The great practitioners of the past found that the key was to work with light and darkness. Light- in the form of our values, aspirations and ideals. Darkness- in the form of our pain, sorrow, challenges and obstacles.

The essence of a good practitioner and a doorway to discovering purpose and meaning is to get the shadows right. This is why it is so important to spend time and attention studying and contemplating dukkha and the human condition. Dukkha is extremely important because it gives our life perspective, without which our life would be ill defined and lifeless. Dukkha is the way in which life takes its form. To contemplate dukkha is to fully understand who we are, our place in the world, and to recognize the troubles that we all face as we learn to make our way forward.

Life cannot be understood in its details without understanding dukkha.

We often look to the light to find purpose and meaning. We look to the heavens as if hope is the way. Yet time and again, it is those who have wrestled with their own being who give rise to true freedom of expression. We must look into our own flesh, our own open sores and wounds to find what is true.

As our awareness of our own condition deepens, we naturally begin to empathize with others. As we are able to develop more equanimity towards our own condition, we start to recognize the equality of all beings in this world.

Perhaps the proof is that we can mimic the practice of others and yet still remain unchanged. Their practice doesn't reflect our lived experience. The infinite varieties of which life can take shape do not allow for a one-size-fits-all solution. You must look within. The key lies in you.

Praise the light. Rejoice in its presence and proclaim its virtue. But tend to the darkness, sit with it, acknowledge it. As you learn to be more accommodating with the pain and discontentment of your own condition, you will be able to carry that openness and ease into the world and bring benefit to others.

Working with the light reveals the possibility before you. Working with darkness enables you to step into and occupy that space. When you can do that, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Attention follows intention.

When we direct the mind in meditation, it is important that we start out with a clear instruction. Notice the way that our intention shapes and directs our practice.

Let's use the example of meditating on the breath.

If our intention is, "I'm going to meditate on the breath." First, we start noticing the breath at the nostrils. Then our attention slowly drifts to noticing the breath at the belly. Again the attention drifts to noticing the breath as the rib cage expands and contracts.

In this instance, the mind is focusing on the breath, but it is wandering as it becomes bored with the breath at a certain area. The lack of clarity and specificity means we have given our attention permission to wander. Uncertainty leads to restlessness.

Let's try this again, this time we are going to meditate on the breath at the belly. First, we start noticing the belly rise and fall. Then we start noticing the rib cage expand and contract. Wait! We recall our intention to focus on the belly and with mindfulness, bring our attention back to the belly.

Then we resume our practice.

Gradually, with a clear intention, our attention becomes more stable and our practice progresses. Attention follows intention.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Letter to a friend (The Renaissance Letter).

Dear friend, 

It has been quite some time since our last conversation. Summer has revealed her bounty and now fall is just starting to take form. The lavender is dried out and has lost its fragrance, the witch hazel tree has turned a fiery red, and the maple has already begun shedding her leaves. The world that we find ourselves in today is undergoing seismic shifts. We all find ourselves troubled by the challenges of climate change, political theater, and a society utterly destitute of belonging and community. Don't get caught up in speculation and longing. Take the time you need to cultivate inner abundance and joy, and take pleasure in the simple things around you. Find ways to support and inspire other practitioners in your life, as we are all in this boat together!

Just as the outer world changes, there is dramatic change unfolding in you. You may not notice it, you may not see its form, but if you are still you can feel its presence. Take time to sit and listen to that which is inexpressible. Within that space of deep stillness, you will find something that moves in you. Don't fixate on it, don't become too elated. Just relax. Clarity reveals itself naturally without effort. Effort in this moment simply creates more confusion and a cycle of disappointment.

This inner work of revealing your own heart is not easy. Don't take it lightly. You need to do the work, which means putting in the time and effort into your practice. I suppose that is why they call it the path of meditation, because we need to traverse the inner landscape of our own heart and mind in order to find what it is we have to share with the world. Don't be afraid of getting lost on that journey. Just as when one is in a new city, getting lost can reveal more and create more of an impression than rushing straight to your chosen destination. You are always blazing the path of meditation in your own life, meaning the trail is always behind you.

This commitment and dedication that you have is quite uncommon in this world. I know at times you must be frustrated and feel at a loss. Be patient with yourself. Your work inspires us all, even though we often do not have the words to say it. Bit by bit, our intentions and actions shape the world. The work of compassion and generosity is rarely done with a hammer and chisel, often it very subtle and we do not get to appreciate the final form in our lifetime. Be confident that form does reveal itself even if you do not see it. Your work, your art, leaves an impression in the world and that impression is in the lives of the people you impact.

The renaissance was a time of reawakening to human values and the measure of man. This question of what is sacred and what it means to be human is ever more urgent in our world. Artists moved the renaissance. Artists were the creators of change and the drivers of what people came to value and appreciate. Their art created an impact, it changed the culture. Now is a time in which we need more artists.

Take a moment to look at your own work, this inner work that you are doing. Does it lend itself to refining your values and who we are in the world? Does it examine the nature of what it means to be fully human and the nature of the world in which we move? Does your work reveal insight into the human condition and our place in the world?

This work that you are doing is the work of an artist. You are the blank canvas and the block of marble. In order for art to make an impact, it must be shared. It must go out into the world where it can interact with others, influence their perception and shape their values. Art that isn't shared isn't art at all, it is just a painting or a piece of sculpture. Art creates change. The way that you create change is by being present and contributing. Compassion, kindness and generosity are the expressions of your art, and each of those has the power to shape a human life and to make an impact in the world.

We too find ourselves in a renaissance, only this time the art won't stand in galleries. Art is the gift of our humanity that changes and benefits the lives of others. A life dedicated to this work and practice has both purpose and meaning. It has the power to shift the culture, to create a culture of awakening. This is the work of the bodhisattva, the work of revealing our own heart for the benefit of others.

With fervent admiration and support for you and the work that you do.

Gregory Scott Patenaude

Friday, September 7, 2018

Spiritual connections are important.

Spiritual connection and engagement is the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability. 
Brene Brown

When we enter into authentic spiritual communities we should feel awkward. Awkward, because we can lower our guard, get rid of the facade, drop the pretense. Awkward, because we can come as we are. Awkward, because we can be vulnerable and honest. 

Your brothers and sisters around you support you in your practice and in your pursuit of happiness. They understand your challenges and failures. They respect your effort and your persistence. 

We all need this kind of connection in our life. Connection with those who travel the path and live a life devoted to practice. Seeking out and building these connections enriches our own practice and it enriches our world. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Embarking on the path of meditation.

In the Buddha's first sermon, the Buddha stated the following:

Fully understand dukkha.
Let go of arising.
Actualize cessation.
Cultivate the path. 

What gives rise to dukkha is the three poisons of ignorance, craving and aversion, that is the truth of the origin. Craving and aversion reinforce a cycle of reactivity. Ignorance creates an underlying confusion about who we are, the nature of the world around us and our place in it. In meditation, we can train our mind to let go of craving, aversion and ignorance. The result is the actualization of the state of cessation, the third noble truth. 

Actualizing cessation can be interpreted according to different practice traditions. The common Buddhist tradition used the metaphor of a doctor to understand the relationship between the four noble truths and how we actualize cessation. 

The doctor metaphor goes like this: you are sick, I know why you are sick and I know what is best for you. Listen to what I say and follow my advice, and you will get better. 

That might work in many cases. A lot of times we know that we are not happy, that we have a deep dissatisfaction with our life and we simply don't know the way out. We don't know how to get better. We look for a good doctor, and faithfully follow his advice by practicing his prescription. And we get better.

The common tradition approaches the four noble truths like this: 1) truth of dukkha (you're sick), 2) truth of origin (I know the cause), 4) truth of path (I know how to make you better), 3) truth of cessation (you are better). One, two, four, three. 
The uncommon traditions of Mahamudra and Dzogchen approach the four noble truths differently. From the very beginning, we recognize your innate buddha nature, your innate potential and disposition for flourishing. These practice traditions recognize that you have something to contribute and they recognize your own innate wisdom, which is the wisdom of your own dukkha and life (the truth of dukkha). With this opportunity available to you comes tremendous responsibility, but we need to learn how to get out of our own way. We are the storm, the shit show is our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We need to learn to relax and self-regulate (let go of arising), in order to actualize our nature, which is the state of cessation. Then we are able to continue to walk and practice the path. 
The uncommon tradition starts by empowering you and approaches the four noble truths accordingly: 1) truth of dukkha (your innate wisdom of situation and life), 2) truth of origin (you learn to let go of arising craving, aversion and ignorance), 3) truth of cessation (you recognize and actualize the resultant state), 4) truth of path (you continue to practice the path).  One, two, three, four. 

You don't need to practice the path in order to attain some said result. The result is the path, each and every step. Actualizing the state of cessation doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It doesn't mean your a Buddha and that you never fall back into worldly existence. Not at all! Don't confuse yourself!

Actualizing cessation means that we recognize and abide in our true nature, or buddha heart. We are introduced to our nature through the teachings of the resultant vehicles and the grace of our teacher. When we recognize that nature, we embark on the long journey of the path of meditation. We carry that recognition into all of our activities, learning how to carry it in the form of the six perfections for the benefit of others. The practice of the path reveals the middle way between indulgence and beating ourselves up. We can enjoy life, and our practice makes everything workable. 

The uncommon traditions of Mahamudra and Dzogchen only bring final attainment if you live a life dedicated to practice. If you practice for a little while, have some kind of experience, then set the teachings aside and go about your normal existence then it will be no different than drinking a fine wine or going on some grand trip. Sure, you'll have some kind of memory of that experience, something you can hold onto and tell your friends about, but you won't be changed. 

A life of practice is a life of doing. To be, you have to do. You have to keep doing the inner work of being. Practicing the path in this way will give your life meaning and purpose. Your practice will present you with the opportunity to do art, to make a difference in others lives, to make an impact. You will always have the opportunity to be present, understanding and kind. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

What's love?

To love another means to understand them.
To love means to see them for who they are.
To love means to support their happiness.
To love means to rejoice in their growth and development.

We can develop this kind of love for everyone. We can move through the world with this love. In this way, we can love friends, strangers and even our opponents.

I see you. I respect you. I can understand your situation and see why you might think that is in your best interest. I might not agree with you, but I rejoice in your efforts to lift yourself so you can live a better life.

What prevents us from loving others in this way? Our own small mindedness. Our own fixation to our position and place. Our own inability to love and accept who we are, much less who others are.

By supporting and growing our own hearts, we can learn to expand our love to everyone. By understanding ourselves more fully, we become more in tune with others. Expand our self-awareness, and we expand our circle of acceptance.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Letter to a young practitioner.

Dear friend,

It is a great joy and pleasure to see you so eagerly engage in the practice and the curiosity with which you inquire about the path. I implore you to never temper this curiosity and to always ask questions of your teachers and other Dharma practitioners whom you hold in high regard.

I have little advice to offer save this- search inside yourself. Everyone around you is looking outwards, building up their image and their status. Our culture revolves around gain and loss. Our culture orients us towards what is easy, and it is clear to me that the path ahead of you is difficult, but that is all the more reason for you to travel it. You must learn to set aside everyday concerns and look within. Dig deep into your own thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Yearn to understand the human condition. Everything in you is played out in the world around you. What you struggle with is what we all struggle with.

There is something that burns in you. Something you must know. Something you must resolve and figure out. Use that, don't deny its necessity. Your urgency will carry you far on the path, use it to fuel your study and practice. Don't waste it on meaningless activity or distracted impulses. Accept the fact that you are called to the practice, with all of the responsibility and heaviness that it requires.

If you think that you do not have what you need, that your situation is too rough or that it is not the right time; question yourself, not your life. The practitioner uses all situations as the practice, all obstacles as the path. From where you stand, there is no map. You can only take one step forward and look for guides along the way. The Buddha himself said that all he can do is open the door, you must walk through.

You must know how much your example inspires us. Your effort and dedication will always give your fellow practitioners and teachers much joy. But also know that you will often feel alone on the path. Padampa Sangye told his student Machig Lapdron, that in the deepest and darkest of places you must find the Buddha within. You must follow that example.

There are a few teachings with which you must make your constant companion. When all seems lost and you feel that you are reaching about in the darkness, they will be like beacons of light on the horizon calling you forth. They are the Dharmachakrapravatana on the four noble truths, Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva, and Garab Dorje's Three Words that Strike the Essential Point. Rely on them always and let them inspire you and be a source of rest and abundance. Let these teachings infuse your mind and shape your practice. Learn from them what seems relevant now, but return again and again as they will never stop revealing themselves in your practice. They will naturally give rise to devotion for the lineage and deepen your contemplation.

Be attentive to that which rises up in you. Learn to be comfortable with yourself. Find peace and joy in solitude. When you can sit for hours and not do anything, you have made friends with yourself in a way that few among us can appreciate. The practice never gets easier, you simply learn to be more comfortable with the truth of suffering. As you learn to more fully understand the human condition, you learn to be less reactive and you will find that you don't have to respond to every little impulse. You will learn to rest in openness, to be more receptive and to embrace the vulnerability of what it means to be human. In that space, where we can see clearly without getting caught by the hook of attachment or aversion, reification or denial, there is an opportunity that we will see the truth of cessation and recognize our true nature. Cessation isn't extinction, it isn't a nothingness. What ceases is our false self, our confused notion of who we are. What is revealed is our true nature, what the Buddha called the tathagatagarbha, the buddha heart. This is a legacy available to you, something you have the opportunity to carry forward into your life.

Be patient with yourself. Fight the urge to expect a quick result. The result is the path, and the journey ahead is long. What you want you cannot give birth to now, you must live it. It must live through you. Each experience, each impression gives it shape and form. The practice creates the form of your life. As you sit with the inexpressible, that which is just beyond the reach of your mind, you will give birth to clarity. Recognize the freedom in that arising. Everything is arising. That is the way the practitioner moves through the world.

When you are lost for meaning and purpose, wondering what is the point, know that there is purpose in carrying something. Carry the practice into every nook and cranny of your life. The practice will give your life meaning and from it you will engender a much broader scope of the world and your place in it. Let it inform your intentions, your actions and your livelihood. Carry this as a special gift to yourself, and should you dare, and of course you must, share your time, energy and heart with others.

Faithfully yours, and with much confidence in you as you set out on this journey.

Gregory Scott Patenaude

Friday, August 10, 2018

Getting closer.

In meditation we get closer to the pain, closer to dukkha, closer to reality, closer to the situation as it really is. We learn how to sit in that space, not doing anything. We learn how to gain the composure necessary to be there, to be present, to witness and stay engaged, but not to react.

Normally, amidst pain and chaos and confusion, we tend to shut down. We tend to close ourselves us, put up our guard, insulate ourselves. Protection is a normal response to fear and uncertainty.

In our practice, we don't need to deliberately choose pain or subject ourselves to tortuous situations, but we can choose to stand amidst the pain. We can choose to be present instead of reacting and shutting down.

A genuine practice authentically aligns us with the world and others around us. It's okay to be close to the pain. Our pain is real.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Buddha on the Life Changing Practice of Mindfulness

“Whoever, mendicants, should practice these four foundations of mindfulness for just one week may expect one of two results: either complete deliverance in this life or, if there is a residue of clinging, the state of a non-returner.”

On one occasion, the Buddha was staying in the Kuru kingdom near a marketplace called Khammasadhamma. The Kuru kingdom was the center of Vedic culture and the dominant political and cultural center of the area. The local culture was committed to brahmanic rituals and rites of purification and the society maintained a strict social hierarchy. The marketplace would have been filled with artisans working on their craft, traders doing business, and local religious and political leaders lobbying for power and control. It was a culture not much different than our own.

At that time and in that place, the Buddha spoke to his disciples about the practice of mindfulness, teaching what is known as the Mahāsatipatṭhāna Sutta, the Great Sutra on the Foundations of Mindfulness. This work of his revealed the core practice of mindfulness, which is central to the Buddha’s teachings and a core principle of living life according to the Dharma.

The practice of mindfulness is for those practitioners who are committed to living mindfully in order to realize inner freedom. It is a practice to overcome busyness and distraction, teaching us to let go of preoccupations and focus the mind in the present. This practice of being mindful and aware frees us from suffering, fear and anxiety, giving us the capacity to be present and engaged, to look deeply and discover the insight needed to transform our life and the world around us.  Accessible and relevant to the modern world, this teaching reveals four qualities of the mind necessary for embarking on a lifetime of practice. This practical yet profound practice teaches us how to maintain mindfulness of the body, how to experience sense perceptions and the influences of the inner and outer world, how to recognize thoughts and various mental states, and how to carry mindfulness through the varieties of our lived experience.

In the Digha Nikaya, the Long Discourses of the Buddha, the Buddha taught the practice of the foundations of mindfulness.

There is, mendicants, this one way to the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and distress, for the disappearance of pain and sadness, for the gaining of the right path, for the realization of Nirvana- that is to say the four foundations of mindfulness.

During the Buddha’s time, the local culture would have been obsessed with purifying the body, improving its condition and making it more pleasing for the sake of everyday concerns. They would have yearned for a way to purify their minds of negative thoughts and mental states, reaching out to their local Brahmin for a method of cleansing the mind and spirit. In this regard, ancient India is not much different than our own modern day world. People are always looking for an easy fix to their problems. People spend countless resources on ways to cleanse the body and make it healthier. They seek out methods that all promise to lead to happiness and a life of meaning and purpose. Celebrities of the moment all have the solution of the day available to you.

Knowing the local culture and the concerns of his audience, the Buddha taught the foundations of mindfulness as the single authentic way to purify our own body, speech and mind. He taught the practice of mindfulness as the only way to overcome sorrow and distress, pain and sadness. This single practice sets us out on the right path, on the path of inner freedom. 

Here, mendicants, a mendicant abides contemplating body as body, ardent, clearly aware and mindful, having put aside hankering and fretting for the world. She abides contemplating feelings as feelings; she abides contemplating mind as mind; she abides contemplating phenomena as phenomena, ardent, clearly aware and mindful, having put aside hankering and fretting for the world.

Four Qualities for Engaging in the Practice

The Buddha taught that when we are contemplating these foundations of mindfulness, we should be ardent, clearly aware, mindful and put aside any hankering and fretting for the world. These four qualities are essential if our practice is to be fruitful.

Ardent (Pali. Ātāpī) means to burn. It is to be passionate and enthusiastic about the task at hand. One who is not ardent lacks energy. Thus, the Buddha taught that to engage in the practice of mindfulness we need to be passionate about our work. Who among us is passionate about the work they do? 

Amateurs are passionate, to be an amateur is ‘to love’. Amateurs are curious and have lots of questions, and the answers to those questions lead to more questions resulting in a constant state of wonder. Approaching the practice with a beginners mind, we are fueled by wonder and fascination. Amateurs are passionate enough to do the work it takes to orientate themselves to the worlds in which they inquire. Their passion allows them to build the framework necessary to explore deeper. Their passion carries them beyond the superficial layers, it fosters depth and the depth feeds the passion. Passion coupled with orientation, a framework for exploration and the ability to see deeper are the prerequisites for becoming an expert. Being ardent, we start as amateurs in the practice and end up as masters.

Clearly aware (Skt. samprajanya) is a vigilant awareness that is fully alert to the present moment. The Buddha describes this vigilant awareness in the Satipatthanasamyutta:

And how, mendicants, does a mendicant exercise clear comprehension? Here, mendicants, for a mendicant feelings are understood as they arise, understood as the remain present, understood as they pass away. Thoughts are understood as they arise; perceptions are understood as they arise…It is in this way, mendicants, that a mendicant exercises clear comprehension.

Being clearly aware means being present in a non-reactive and non-judgemental way. It is like a watchmen in the tower, looking out over his domain, knowing who is coming and going. It is sharp, attentive and focused.

The next quality of the mind that must be developed is mindfulness itself. Mindful in this sense means to be mindful of the object of our intention. Attention follows intention, so we need to be clear about what we are being mindful of. Once we have set a clear intention, mindfulness maintains our attention on that focus. When the mind wanders and becomes distracted, mindfulness brings us back. Mindfulness can be described as a rope that ties a monkey to a stake. As the monkey of the mind moves and jumps around, the rope always brings the monkey back.

The last quality of the mind required for this practice is to put aside hankering and fretting for this world. Set aside your attachment and aversion, your craving and fixation. Remain in a state free from judgment and speculation. Let go of reactions to whatever is coming up in your experience, simply maintain the continuity of mindfulness and vigilant awareness with curiosity and enthusiasm. 

Cultivating these four mental qualities of being ardent, clearly aware, mindful and setting aside our reactions to our experience, we can move through each of the four foundations of mindfulness, contemplating the body as body, feelings as feelings, mind as mind, and phenomena as phenomena; simply being aware of our experience in a non-reactive and non-judgemental way.

These four qualities of mind are the way in which we engage in the practice of mindfulness. Next time, we will look into the practice as it pertains to contemplating one’s own body, feelings, mind and experience.

Friday, August 3, 2018

You are the work.

Farmers direct the stream;
archers straighten the arrow's shaft;
carpenters shape the wood; 
the spiritual work on themselves.
from the Dhammapada 10:17

The farmer knows his fields, the condition of his crops and how the seasons affect his harvest. He knows when water is plentiful and when it needs to be used judiciously. The farmer understands his medium. 
The archer knows her bow and arrow. She knows when the arrow is true and when it is must be straightened. Her craft is mastered by knowing the subtle nuances and conditions of her medium so that she can reliably hit her mark. 

The carpenter knows wood. He knows how it will split, which wood is soft and which is hard. He knows how the grain will appear and how to use the inherent qualities of the wood to produce a work of art. 

To practice the dharma we need to understand our medium. We are the medium, our own body, speech and mind. We are the wood to be shaped and the arrow to be straightened. We must understand the human condition in order for our practice to take root. Mastering our practice means understanding the human condition, and that starts by understanding dukkha.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Dukkha is more than suffering.

Life is suffering. The truth of suffering.

You've heard these statements of the Buddha about the nature of this life. Over the past one hundred years, much of the Buddha's teachings have made their way into Western thought and culture. Knowing that all of the Buddha's teachings revolve around the four noble truths, we should be sure to come to a correct understanding about what he meant when he laid out his foundational teachings.

In his first sermon, the Buddha taught:
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha.
 It is easy to see how the early translators of the dharma may have chosen suffering or pain as a substitute for the Sanskrit term dukkha. It makes sense, birth is painful, aging is suffering, not getting what you want is painful. Those translations offer insight into what the Buddha was trying to convey.

But words are limited in their meaning.

The Buddha first states that birth, aging, illness and death are all dukkha. Every stage of human life is dukkha. The human condition is subject to pain and suffering, discomfort and unease.

The Buddha then says that uniting with what is displeasing is dukkha. It is unsatisfying, frustrating, miserable.

Next we find that separation from what is pleasing is dukkha. It is grief, sadness, distress.

The Buddha goes on to say that not getting what one wants is dukkha. It is despair, disappointing, upsetting.

Finally, the Buddha states that the five aggregates, or all conditioned phenomena, are dukkha. There is a basic unsatisfactoriness that pervades all forms of the human condition, which is subject to change, impermanent and without any lasting substance. That which changes, is impermanent and without lasting substance is incapable of satisfying us.

Later in his first discourse, the Buddha taught that dukkha was to be fully understood. What are we to understand? Is it enough to understand that life is suffering?

We need to understand the human condition in its entirety. The central tenet of the Buddha's teachings is that we need to understand our own pain and suffering, but also the myriad ways in which we fall into states of loss and sadness, dissatisfaction and despair. We need to fully understand how all things change, how the very nature of this life and this world is that it is impermanent and without any lasting substance.

Dukkha includes understanding suffering, but it is much more than suffering. It is understanding the human condition, and all that it entails.

Finally, we should take a look at what is meant by 'understand'. Is it to be known, acknowledged or perceived?

It is not enough to know the words or even the meaning. To fully understand dukkha we have to be aware of dukkha, acknowledge it, feel it and sit with it. We need to see it and listen to it. We need to fight the urge to wallow in it, push it away or pretend it isn't there. Then we might understand the truth of dukkha.