|Thought for the day: February 1, 2008
"If you can't let it go, carry it along," is a Taoist saying. Often life's problems grow worse when we
try to get rid of them, like a barking dog, who grows bolder the more you kick at him. Life has it's
problems no doubt, but trying to push them out of one's mind is not a solution.
|Thought for the day: February 3, 2008
If you think that since everything is empty, nothing matters, ask yourself what it is you are
referring to. If it didn't matter, you would have nothing to refer to.
|Thought for the day: February 2, 2008
If you plant a Palm tree in shallow soil with rock below, over the years it will split the obstructing
rock as it seek out nutriment so that it can grow and flourish. It removes what is obstructing it at
an imperceptible pace, but as years move on it can crack and break even the most tenacious
In a similar manner, obstructions to self-realization are broken up very slowly, but with
persistence they will gradually be broken up by the power of our inquiry.
|Thought for the day: February 4, 2008
Atheists don't believe in God. That is OK; neither do Buddhists. But, the similarity ends there.
Buddhists share with their God fearing brothers the belief that a strong moral, ethical, and
virtuous mode of conduct is the foundation for self-realization; without which it is difficult, if not
impossible to shake off confusion. A Christian might say that the moral precepts etc., "please
God," thus paving the way to know him better. So, what a Buddhist might call "shaking off the
confusion of the desire realm", a Christian might call "knowing God." It matters little if one
disciplines oneself to please God or shake off confusion; you will be put to the test
nonetheless, and reap similar rewards if you succeed. These disciplines, after all, only get you
as far as the beginning of the Path.
|Thought for the day: February 5, 2008
Practitioners of the dharma often tend to have either stronger mystical propensities or rational
ones and, and this bent towards one or the other often determines their mode of practice.
Problems arise however when one side is overshadowed by the other to the extent that either
the mystical side is ignored or the rational, logical, philosophical side is. The importance of
bringing together the mystical and rational elements of the Path can be seen in the exchanges
between the Kagyu and Gelugpa traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, among more notable
examples. While the Kagyu places greater emphasis on mysticism, they balance this out by
studying the treatises of the Gelugpa sect, which is primarily rational (and headed by HH Dali
Lama, by the way.) And, the Gelugpas receive many initiations into the mystical elements of
the Kagyu, from the great Kagyu masters. There are many simililar examples of exchange
between other sects
Each individual should examine his or her own practice to see that it is a good mix between
mystical and intellectual. Those with a strong mystical side often fall into the error of defining
their own mental states and making assumptions about them that can carry them far off
course. This danger is avoided if clear conceptuality is balanced with reasoned analyses. On
the other hand, the intellectual can actually use his reasoned analyses to achieve benefits
that transcend the debating courtyards if he reaches beyond intellectual understanding
through the practice of meditation.
|Thought for the day: February 6, 2008
Create space for letting ideas come to you. During quiet moments, keep them that way.
Often we are afraid of not occupying our time; but this fear is a paper tiger. Treasure those
empty times during a day.
|Thought for the day: February 7, 2008
Self effacement when it leads to an effort to turn oneself around is a kind of humility and a
virtuous quality. But, self-effacement that merely reflects a low valuation of oneself is harmful.
|Thought for the day: February 8, 2008
Just as waves cannot be separated from the sea, thoughts cannot be separated from the
mind. And, yet we are often tempted to eliminate thoughts in our meditation, a common
mistake. Imagine yourself in a pool of water trying to calm the surface by pressing down on its
waves. You will surely create even more waves by your very effort. The mind is the same way.
First we must realize that thoughts are the same as mind and stop trying to push them back in
every time they arise, or, throw them away. This will only stir them up. But, if you rest in the
understanding that thought and mind are one and the same, this attitude alone will bring
peace and gradually you will understand the mind's nature.
|Thought for the day: February 9, 2008
Realize the difference between contentment and stagnation. While contentment is a virtue,
it is not static. It is dynamic, active, and ever changing. To find a comfortable little slot for
oneself and remain there is not the way to grow and thrive. As human beings we are meant
to change and transform. It is possible to find comfort and contentment even though one
cannot find a firm place to alight one's foot; it just requires that we realize that is the nature
of the trail.
|Thought for the day: February 11, 2008
Shamatha, or quiescence meditation, should be coupled with vipasana, insight meditation.
First one establishes quiescence, and when the mind is settled firmly and not wandering,
one uses a corner of this settled mind to investigate the question, "Who is meditating?"
One must never lose the settled state while practicing this inquiry.
|Thought for the day: February 12, 2008
The Shurangama Sutra tells the story of King Prasanjit, who during his advanced years and
approaching death, walked beside his palace with the Buddha. The king was inquiring of
the Buddha about the nature of his mind and asked the Buddha to point it out to him. They
were walking across a bridge at the time, and the Buddha pointed to the water below and
asked the King, "Do you see that water below?" The King replied that of course he did. The
Buddha further asked, "Does that water look any different now then when you were a
child?" The King replied: "No, the water looks the same now as when I was a child, a teen, a
young man, a middle aged man, and now an old man past 80 years." The Buddha replied,
"That unchanging "seeing nature" is your mind. While the eyes can reveal forms, the
seeing nature comes from the mind, not the eyes."
|Thought for the day: February 13, 2008
A Buddhist rule of conduct for monks and nuns prohibits them from speaking the dharma at
an inappropriate time or place. This is a good rule and I myself, as a layman, follow it.
However, we are also taught to teach what we know. Recognizing the appropriate time to
speak the dharma is almost as difficult as having something to say. First we must have a
listener that is not expressing mere idle curiosity or trying to make conversation. But, one
may request it without sincerity, as happened to me today when an appraiser (who saw all
my statues while appraising my home) asked me if the Buddha taught all is suffering. (I said
no.) He then asked me to give a quick synopsises of the Buddhist religion and I reminded
him that he is an appraiser and he should do that.
Another danger comes from within and it manifest as the desire to show off every little
insight we achieve --- like an eleven year old who is told a secret. Much of the insight we
gain through our practice is more personal than we may realize and should be protected.
In addition, the insights we gain may not be relevant to another's karma. One of the
qualities of a great teacher is recognizing the needs of his disciples; and this comes with
developing real compassion. So if we really want to help others we should first cultivate
genuine compassion so that we may become truly sensitive to the needs of others and
refrain from waging our tongue whenever the occasion arises.
|Thought for the day: February 15, 2008
It is said that the power of emptiness, is the fact that it is empty. The diverse world we live
in is an expression of this.If emptiness had characteristics, not only would it not be
empty, but the world could not be as it is. Red paint can only produce things that are red.
But because emptiness is empty, we have the diverse world that we have. And, keep in
mind that emptiness itself is not a characteristic. If you believe that it is, then you are
conflating relative emptiness with absolute emptiness, in other words you are thinking of
emptiness as a thing. Technically, this kind of emptiness is referred to as "dull emptiness.
If we wish to understand emptiness and one day experience it we must avoid looking for
"dull emptiness," which, by the way, is almost a given, a classic mistake that is forced
upon us because of the way we habitually look at things. This way of thinking can be
likened to removing the furniture from a room before declaring the room "empty." True
emptiness would not require removing the furnitature, for it too is empty. When we
meditate we are not trying to rid our mind of anything.
Since thoughts cannot be orphaned we should learn how to transform them. This will
happen quite naturally as the assumption that the underlying nature of all perception,
both inner and outer, is emptiness. As this attitude of mind becomes firm, a
transformation will take place in the way we look at the world.
|Thought for the day: February 16, 2008
One of the characteristics of Buddhism that distinguishes it from other religions is the fact
that it attempts to demonstrate how things are rather than explain them. Some teachings
answer our most perplexing questions by explaining a state of affairs and expect us to
believe it so by the very authority of its authors, whom, divinely inspired, are above
questioning. Buddhism, however, takes a different approach. Rather than explain
anything, it demonstrates it, or more correctly asks it followers to demonstrate it for
themselves. Those who wish to accomplish this demonstration (for themselves) must
familiarize themselves with a system of reasoning that leads them to progressively deeper
understanding. There is no "other power" here that is going to come to the rescue. The
Buddha says in the Dharmapadda, "No one saves us but ourselves, no one can and no
one may, the Buddha merely shows the way."
|Thought for the day: February 17, 2008
Although it is better and more difficult to think about nothing, until you can do that properly
it is better to think about something, or you won't get anything done.
|Thought for the day: February 18, 2008
When practicing inquiry be relentless, always keeping the mind engaged. Do not be so
concerned about being right or wrong, but do be concerned that the mind is engaged. A
sharp and engaged mind cuts through mental clutter and is a source of great energy,
both physical and mental.
|Thought for the day: February 20, 2008
Today a friend sent me an article about a Dharma gathering in New York whose teacher
invites his followers to the bar below after meditation and "dharma" discourse. The
teacher's idea is to make Buddhism accessible to Westerners by bringing it down to earth
with stylized discourses that, for example, substitute "stress" for "Suffering" in the Four
Noble Truths. But, the suffering the Buddha taught in the "Truths" had little to do with
"stress" as we think of it today, nor was the Buddha concerned with making Buddhism
attractive to the people of his day. His was not a teaching of how to get on in the world and
be happy, but how to end cyclic existence on the ever turning wheel of birth and death.
|Thought for the day: February 21, 2008
Freedom from "suffering," the first of the "Four Noble Truths," refers to suffering in the
sense of the broader human condition and not the our common sense idea of it. In other
words, the "suffering" that the Buddha spoke of is both the happiness and sadness of the
world, and his teachings aimed at freeing the mind from a view of Self attached to both. For
the Buddha, a king in his palace is no less ensnared by his wealth than a poor and
miserable man by his abject poverty. Both are identifying their Self in the context of the
relative world. The aim of the Buddhist teaching is to teach us how to step out of this
context, while not ignoring it altogether.
|Thought for the day: February 22, 2008
While at the Khumba Mela in India a sadhu told me a story from the life of King Janak
that is both humorous and illustrative of the King's well deserved reputation for
non-attachment.. The story goes like this: One day the King's palace had caught fire
while he was at the river frolicking with his wife. His attendants ran frantically to the
riverside to inform him of the disastrous fire. However, the King was as if deaf to their
words and splashed and played in total joy. His servants kept up their yelling, however,
until the King finally dismissed them saying:
"I'm in the water."
|Thought for the day: February 23, 2008
If a friend came to your home saying, "come with me, come with me," your first response
would likely question, "where, where?" or, if while asleep we were somehow moved to a
strange place, upon awakening we would surely wonder how we got there. And yet, how
we came into the world, and where we will go when we die, seldom finds a footing in mans'
mind from first breath to last. So bewitched we are by the conditions of this very brief stay
on the planet that we forget to ask very simple and fundamental questions. True, during
quiet moments the world's mystery may impress her majesty upon us enough that a slight
curiosity may arise and maybe even an inclination towards contemplating the matter. But,
these moments are destined to be squashed by a call from a girlfriend we haven't heard
from since high school, "high surf warning", or mom calling us to diner, in general the
necessities of life. And, another of many such "moments" is lost forever.
|Thought for the day: February 24, 2008
Some question Buddhists saying, "If all is empty, why make an effort. Why give up desires
and live a disciplined life? Buddhist respond by asking, if desires are empty, why
not?---nothing is really being given up!
The Buddhist position is that because we take desires as real, they have power to bind us
and keep us turning under their influence. One should not confuse having sex,
accumulating wealth, enjoying delicious food and living comfortably, with the desire for
these things. They are not the same thing.
Buddhism does demonstrate that as long as desire is behind these manifestations, not
only will they obstruct but also they will fail to bring genuine satisfaction. Notwithstanding
the deeper levels of realization, including Nirvana (complete Peace,) Buddhism teaches
that the world cannot be fully appreciated because we are obstructed by desire. Life is
consumed chasing them and satisfaction does not end in accumulation. One does not
need a religious viewpoint to observe this, read a local paper and you will see plenty of
evidence. Whether one is living in abundance or poverty accumulation of more is common
characteristics and leads to much crime, anxiety and depression.
If we pretend for a moment that our desires are not real, we will feel lost and without
motivation. Creatures of desire that we are, we do not adapt easily to doubting their
importance. As soon as we do however, we are forced to create a new life, from which will
emerge a new appreciation of the world. This is a gradual process that will test our
|Thought for the day: February 25, 2008
There is virtue in contentment; but stagnation is hell.
|Thought for the day: February 28, 2008
It is far wiser to be concerned by how you use a particular meditation technique than
whether or not the technique is right for you. It is tempting to judge a method of meditation
based on the progress one is making, and blame the technique if one is not making
progress. This is why people hop from one way of practicing to the next in an endless
search for the method that suits them. They will die never finding it. If one's relationship
with one's practice is not going well, consider the your approach and try to correct it rather
than switch to a new practice. (The above assumes that one is practicing in a traditional
manner and not a New Age interpretation.)
|Thought for the day: February 29, 2008
"New Age" is without lineage and should be avoided. These are usually "dharma's of
convenience," interpretations of older systems "adapted" to our modern times.