|Thought for the day: December 1, 2007
The Buddha in many of his teachings urges his disciples to work hard at their own level.
A so called inferior-level practitioner who applies great effort can easily surpass one of
seemingly greater potential who is lazy, and Buddhist text are replete with examples of
this. A steady and sure application of effort wins the race.effort wins the race.
|Thought for the day: December 2, 2007
Become the disciple of everyone you meet, for they all have something you can learn
|Thought for the day: December 3, 2007
In moments of quiet honesty, while surveying the landscape of your life, see that which
is holding you back and vow to release it. In Buddhism they are called, ."fetters," and
pertain to both mental viewpoints and physical form, and have no other purpose but to
block positive growth.
But, "fetters" are no push-overs, for their roots that often run very deep. They have to
be carefully dismantled through understanding their origins. It is not enough to view
them as harmful; but rather one must carefully contemplate why they are so. If a "fetter"
is banished without understanding the "why" it is harmful, it will surely arise again.
The energy behind a "fetter" muist not be blocked, but redirected skillfully. Otherwise
we will have an energy-orphan running lose in our life.
|Thought for the day: December 4, 2007
I have discussed the importance examining one's beliefs and using care in expressing
them in recent 'thoughts" This was in connection with expressing what one believes in
and avoiding blind belief. The other side of this coin is blind disbelief which has
dangers almost equal to blind belief.
Someone may say he doesn't "believe" in the Buddha, for example, without any
knowledge of what the Buddha taught. The same could be said of many other
teachers. While we are all entitled to believe what we want, it is important to know why
we believe, or don't believe in someone or some teaching. It is not enough to simply be
a follower of a tradition other than the one that one disbelieves. Upon examination it
may turn out that the tradition we don't "believe" in is saying the same as our own, or
something we find more reasonable.
In Buddhist monasteries monks and nuns are taught to study all traditions. Often formal
debates are conducted with monks assuming the roles of traditions they don't adhere
to, while going against their own Buddhist tradition. This has many obvious
advantages, not the least of which is to enable them to help those of other traditions
and to understand their own tradition better. Therefore, importance of understanding
the "why" of both beliefs and disbeliefs cannot be overemphasized.
|Thought for the day: December 5, 2007
While it is important to apply great effort to one's practice, we must be careful not to
overestimate our ability and push to hard. Sometimes less can accomplish more. Real
change manifests itself as very subtle changes in viewpoint that grow slowly over a
long period of time. Like a tree whose growth is not noticed day by day, our practice is
constantly maturing even though we may not notice it. If this is understood, we will not
obstruct ourselves by being anxious about results.
|Thought for the day: December 6, 2007
Meditation without a clear intention is like walking around with blindfolds. A
philosophical understanding of the nature of mind, emptiness, inherent existence,
creation, "I" etc. and what these terms mean must be combined with meditation to
balance out what might otherwise turn out to be a faith based practice, blind faith.
Faith is good when combined with wisdom, but empty of merit otherwise.
|Thought for the day: December 7, 2007
A saying goes, "The intellect is a good tool, but a poor Master." The intellect is ruled
by desire and will twist and distort teachings to serve desire. Modern "Tantra" is
perhaps the best example of this; but there are many others, as well.
When we set out to study and practice the Buddhist teachings many aspects of our
personal life will certainly be threatened, and the intellect will cleverly offer protection
by trying to justify actions that are "outside the way." This game of the mind is as old
as the dharma itself, and by no means confined to Buddhism, or even religion itself. Be
aware of this game and play it using wisdom. Keep long term goals in mind and let
short term ones fall aside.
|Thought for the day: December 8, 2007
We all have the same problems; but different ways of dealing with them.
If we want to solve personal problems, it is helpful to analyze them and reduce them to
their universal and shared characteristics. If we do this, we will notice that our own
problems are not so different from everyone else's, and are rooted in greed, anger,
selfishness, and a host of other afflictions that tie us to a very narrow and selfish view
of ourselves. Individuals are often obstructed more heavily by one generality than an
other; some may be of greedy temperament, while another a hateful or angry one, and
knowing our own can help us direct our spiritual practice.
Keeping the above in mind is a holistic approach that will eliminate them at the root,
rather than apply a band aid. One who is angry or hateful towards another, for
example, would cultivate universal compassion for all beings, and not simply avoid
being angry to a single person. A Chan saying goes: "Get at the root; do not worry
about twigs and branches."
|Thought for the day: December 10, 2007
Understanding the object of negation is essential for correct meditation. It is tempting
to negate all thoughts and concentrate only on the meditation topic. However, while it
is good to absorb ones mind in the topic of meditation, it should not be accomplished
by blocking out thoughts. The ordinary mind is not the object of negation, although it is
often treated as such. In fact, it is often said that the "ordinary mind is the
bodhi-mandala"---the field of enlightenment. And, why don't we see this? Sutras tell us:
"it is only because of false thinking and attachments that we fail to realize it."
If we practice meditation by blocking out all intruders, we will not be able to eliminate
our false thinking (distorted views) and attachments. Meditation done correctly should
increase our awareness of our false views and attachments, all the while keeping the
thread of meditative awareness alive and intact. If we can dance with our thoughts this
way, we will be able to understand them far better than blocking them out.
Disturbing thoughts have to find a place to take root. Eliminating the negative thoughts
without eliminating the place where they root will not serve any useful purpose.
Therefore, rather than concentrate on eliminating negative thoughts, we should try to
see how we give them soil to grow in.
|Thought for the day: December 11, 2007
Skill in meditation is dependent on few desires. Where there are strong desires,
meditation is impossible. Where desire is blocked or bottled up, meditation is equally
|Thought for the day: December 12, 2007
Few possessions, much appreciated, is better than many unappreciated possessions.
|Thought for the day: December 13, 2007
Genuine compassion is difficult to realize. Even after we have studied and meditated
deeply and understood the benefits of having compassion for others; it is extremely
difficult to internally realize it as an uncontrived aspect of our being. In fact, it is this
uncontrived aspect of compassion that I believe is what separates great teachers from
ordinary practitioners. Most of us have compassion that is contrived in the sense that
our first response when thinking about a world leader who is responsible for endless
killing and environmental destruction (for example) is one of disgust and dislike, which
we temper with reasoning based on the fact that this negativity does not serve us well,
nor the target of our emotional response. A great teacher, on the other hand, will
immediately see the consequences of that world leader's destructive actions, both for
himself and others, and knowing how much suffering he is bringing on himself and
others, feel genuine pity for that person. His reaction is entirely different from ours in
the sense that he does not have a first negative reflex to temper, and this is the
difference between a common person and a sage.
|Thought for the day: December 14, 2007
While it is said that the enlightened mind is free of all conceptuality; since few of us are
enlightened, we must live and guide our lives within the framework of concepts. If we
have not earned the state of freedom from concepts and simply try to act as if we have,
the results will be disastrous, and our lives will be completely unprincipled. Therefore,
while striving for the ultimate, we must live within the relative. That means we must
establish a framework to guide our lives and for that we will need to form concepts. This
is nothing new . Seers of the past have laid out many world views to help us better
conceptualize life's meaning and thereby root our actions on a firmer and better
|Thought for the day: December 15, 2007
Being clear about the "object of negation" is essential for correct meditation. It is
tempting to negate everything that arises (in meditation;) but this can only lead to
nihilism. While meditating, it is important to avoid the two extremes of under negation
and over negation, and walk the fine line in-between. If we are asked to find someone
in a crowd, we must first know what that person looks like; for otherwise we will not
know which persons to negate to find that person. Meditation is very much like this; we
must have a clear understanding of the object of negation. Once the face in the crowd
has been found, there is no need to look again at the other faces. In similar manner,
once the topic of meditation has been found, there is no more need to negate other
thoughts for the mind rests on the topic of meditation. Familiarity with the topic of
meditation will help keep the mind on it and free from wandering.
|Thought for the day: December 16, 2007
Yesterday I read a news article, Monk Fashion Show, about Buddhist monks in Japan
staging a catwalk-style fashion show in Buddhist temples in Japan and setting sutra
texts to rock music, all in an attempt to attract an ever diminishing following to Japanese
temples. While I sympathize with their plight and the financial crisis of the temples, I
disagree with the solution. A fundamental precept of any ordained monk is avoiding
worldly entertainment. Not only are they not avoiding it, but they are providing it, and I
think this is a wrong approach.
The Tibetan Buddhist monk's approach is one that they should be studying, as they
have no problem attracting young people and they are doing this under the handicap
of exile, no less. The Tibetans are skilled in recognizing the struggles of a modern
civilized society, and explaining how ancient Buddhist teachings are relative to these
ills. They emphasize that people must develop a personal practice and not rely on a
monastery or saintly lama to solve their problems for them. Tibetan Buddhism is a
worldwide growing phenomena, all the while Japanese Buddhism, is dying out ; and this
has nothing to do with fashion or music. It has everything to do with one's ability to first
thoroughly understand Buddhism in a practical way that transcends mere intellectual
understanding, and teaching true principles that common people can apply to their own
lives. This goes hand in hand with encouraging people to develop a personal daily
practice, which Tibetan Buddhist have done very well, through demonstrating in a
palatable way its importance. While Buddhism in Japan may need to be brought down
to Earth; it doesn't have to become worldly.
|Thought for the day: December 18, 2007
If there were an easy way, the Buddha certainly would have practiced it. But, even the
Buddha made enormous personal sacrifice in his quest to quench his insatiable thirst
|Thought for the day: December 19, 2007
The discipline of vows can make one's practice more clearly defined and less prone to
distraction. There are many kinds of vows, very generic and very personal. Vows can be
lifelong or for a shorter period of months or years. Each individual who wishes to make a
vow must consider carefully where the added discipline is most needed in his life and
whether or not he can keep a vow. It is better to not make a vow, than to make one that
is not kept.
|Thought for the day: December 20, 2007
Contemplate birth and death; this is the simplest teaching.
|Thought for the day: December 21, 2007
Faith, wisdom, and compassion are the three pillars of meditative practice. While many of
us are stronger in one than the other; our aim should be to balance these out. If we are
strong in faith, but weak in wisdom, we are likely to concentrate our energy in a way that
is misguided. If we are strong in wisdom, but weak on faith, we may get stuck in the realm
of theorizing about this and that and fail to commit to serious practice. If we have strong
wisdom and faith, but lack compassion, we will fail to realize the aim of Buddhism which is
to attain enlightenment so that we can show others how to end their ignorance and the
suffering that it causes.
A balanced practice that combines study, reflection and meditation is the way to assure
that faith, wisdom, and compassion develop equally. Studying the vinaya teachings on
conduct will help us to bring our active life into the path. The prajna teachings on
emptiness will develop our wisdom and guide our viewpoint so that our meditation is on
target. Woven throughout the mahayana is the altruistic ideal of the bodhisattva, who
forsakes his own enlightenment so that he may continue to serve and lead all living
beings. Through contemplating this, selfishness is gradually removed from ones active
life and meditative intention.
|Thought for the day: December 22, 2007
Depression plagues many and there are as many causes for it as there are people. From
the ultimate standpoint depression is rooted in a false view of an individual self. But,
unfortunately knowing this is of little value for those of us tossing and turning in Samsara's
sea. To try and assume an ultimate position while still subject to attachments rooted in
selfish desires will be of no benefit. But, we can take baby steps towards this ultimate
If we have faith that selfishness is the root of depression, we can try to see how selfishness
plays a role in our own depression. The source of depression must be correctly identified if
it is to be uprooted. In order to identify the source we must begin by de-constructing it. This
can be done in meditation by bringing it into the field of awareness once the mind is calm.
This does not mean making one's depression the topic of meditation, but rather keeping it
in the background somewhere while engaged in the topic of meditation, letting it gently rise
and fall out of awareness and into it again. This will help familiarize oneself with its workings.
A technique that I found very effective when visited by depression was to try my best to
remain depressed, continually, for as long as possible. In other words, instead of trying to
get rid of the depression, I would try to hold on to it. I would lock onto the depressed feeling
and keep hold of it. This was very difficult to do sometimes, but very effective in uncovering
depression's root and breaking it up. Sincerely practicing the dharma by study, reflection,
and meditation is the most holistic approach to dealing with depression, but it will require
patience because it works on all the ills of individuality at one time and not any particular
aspect of it (as a psychiatric approach might.) The advantage is that by dealing with the
root cause, rather than a specific aspect of it, the depression eliminated will not rise again
in a new form.
Ironically, being depressed is nothing to be depressed about; it is oftentimes better than a
blasé rosy naiveté of the perils we face as human beings chained to false views and
attachments rooted in desire. If the focus it spurs is not on the depression itself, but rather
its root causes, depression can lead to positive inquiry and realization.
|Thought for the day: December 23, 2007
Our emotional state is influenced to a larger extent than we may be aware by the foods we
eat and the quantity. For this reason both Buddhist and Hindus urge their followers to eat
food that are sattvic and to eat in moderation. While I strongly advise not to pay so much
attention to diet that it becomes an obsession and passion (as is often the case,) I do
believe it has a supporting role in practice that should not be ignored altogether. Body
chemistry can effect our attitude and keeping a good diet will help assure a lighter brighter
mind for meditation. For ideas on sattvic foods click here: ayurveda
|Thought for the day: December 24, 2007
Dharma Master Seng Chao wrote: "Discrimination makes a corpse of life which it then
handles." While discrimination guides us through our conventional life and its importance
for this function is undeniable, one must realize its limitations, as well, and thus Seng
Chao's caution. He is not advocating abandoning discrimination; but rather realizing its
limitations. The truths of Buddhism can be intellectually understood and analyzed in a
scholarly fashion, and there is benefit in doing so, as long as it is understood that this is
not the aim. However, many get stuck here and impute upon their intellectual
understanding of Buddhism and perhaps an ability to skillfully debate its fine points, as
understanding Buddhism in a useful way that leads to liberation. It is not; unless one takes
the next step which would be taking one's intellectual knowledge into one's life and making
it a living experience.
Buddhism is a very personal experience and not at all an abstract one; something out
there that we handle with the gloves of our intellect and never come into direct contact
with. Many who study Buddhism prefer to handle it this way because they feel threatened
by it, and indeed Buddhism is threatening. It will demand change and people do not like to
change; they do not like their lifestyle and attachments threatened. Conflict is
characteristic of true Buddhist practice because it will call into question the value of much
we find satisfaction in. If one studies the lives of great masters we will find that nothing
came without sacrifice; stepping beyond the realm of theoretical understanding (handling
life, as Seng Chao might say) and living it comes at a price. Buddhist understanding does
not come in wrapped in a box like a Christmas present the we open and say, "Oh, how
lovely!" It is not coming from outside, but rather inside. It is rather seeing our ordinary
mind from an angle which we were not previously aware. It can be very unexpected and
sudden, or a gradual of change of perspective.
|Thought for the day: December 25, 2007
Christ taught, "Love thy brother, as thy love thy self." A message of universal
compassion is pervasive throughout the Bible; and forms a similar thread throughout
Buddhist teachings, as well. While Christ directed his followers towards this aim, his life
was cut short before (what some Buddhist scholars I have spoken with believe) would
have been a second phase of teachings aimed at techniques to reach the goal of true
Buddhism teaches that before one can love another one must first learn to love oneself.
Contemplative meditation on compassion begins with oneself and moves outward
towards those closest, family, friends, etc., and then to those one feels neutral about,
and gradually to include one's enemies. Understanding, Love, Compassion, are sweet
words, but can be much more. With effort we can live by these words.
|Thought for the day: December 26, 2007
Blessings are the result of good karma, positive actions we have done in the past that
bear fruit either quickly or over time. Blessings can be exhausted, and my teacher always
warned his disciples to guard them with care by not engaging in actions that exhaust
them. People that have a "happy life" often burn out their blessings by not going deeper,
but burning off the merit they earned in the past. This is a great pity because if one is
blessed with good health and happiness, one has fewer obstructions to practice and
could make further progress.
Negative actions cannot be undone; but their results can be neutralized through positive
actions. By the same token, positive actions cannot be undone, but their results can be
neutralized (exhausted) through negative actions rooted in selfishness. As human beings
our "natural" tendency is to be selfish, whether it be in love, accumulation of wealth,
desire for recognition, etc. This is the plight of human existence and why discipline and
wisdom is needed to go against the flow and accumulate good karma. If we count the
cost, the progress made will not be lost.
|Thought for the day: December 27, 2007
The Buddha is inseparable from the teachings he entrusted upon us, and to be a
Buddhist means to be familiar with those teachings and practice them. The Buddha
instructed his disciples to forget about the messenger and focus on the message. While
faith does play its part in Buddhism, blind faith does not. As Buddhist practitioners, we
are reminded to constantly analyze teachings and see for ourselves if they are logically
sound and reasonable. Moreover, students are advised to scrutinize their own teachers
and satisfy themselves that the one giving them instructions practices and lives the
|Thought for the day: December 28, 2007
My teacher often told monks and nuns, "don't trust your own mind." He constantly
encouraged his students to examine their thoughts and see if they are well principled.
|Thought for the day: December 29, 2007
Students of the Buddha Dharma should inoculate themselves against infection by
charlatan teachers and their misguided teachings. The Buddha taught his disciples that
the best defense against false teachers and their doctrine is study, reflection, and
meditation. It is the responsibility of each one of us to know what the Buddha taught.
|Thought for the day: December 30, 2007
Several days ago as I sat to meditate early Sunday morning at my daughters apartment I
heard just outside our window what sounded like a wrecking ball slamming into a building.
It went on and on for fifteen minutes and I began to realize I am in this for the long haul.
All the thoughts of "how inconsiderate, "what a jerk," etc., forced themselves upon me,
but I had no object to attach them to. I have the habit of removing such doubts, and
decided that before continuing it would be helpful to remove the mystery of "who" was
disturbing me. So I got up and went outside.
Outside I found what my reactive mind sort of expected; an inconsiderate jerk pounding
dents out of his car at 6 AM and not even considering the fact that he could have parked
in the street and not disturbed anyone. We had never met, but nonetheless, I exchanged
some morning niceties with him before returning to my meditation. I gave rise to the
thought, however, that he may have some redeeming qualities I am unaware of, and took
some comfort in this thought. Little did I know that I would find out one of them a few days
later when he returned a wallet my daughter had lost with eighty dollars in it. Oh, how
|Thought for the day: December 30, 2007
A willingness to change is one of the most important qualities to cultivate; without which it
is almost impossible to make progress.